Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough: We Need to Stop Deluding Ourselves About Racism

This past weekend has seen numerous protests, vigils and calls for action in response to the recent attacks on Asian Americans and immigrants,  including the tragic killings of eight people, six of them Asian women, in three Atlanta spas. While families and friends are mourning the loss of their loved ones, they must also contend with the stunningly insulting pronouncement by law enforcement that the  killer was just “having a bad day” and sexual addiction drove his actions, not racism— underscoring how deeply systemic race and gender bias and discrimination are, to the point that the offered reasoning of a murderer is seemingly accepted, excused and validated—because he is white.

This continues the long legacy of discrimination and harm against Asian Americans and immigrants, from the Page Act of 1875 which prevented Chinese women from coming to the US under the guise they were prostitutes, soon followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882,  to the internment of Japanese Americans from 1942-1946, to ‘Japan bashing’ in the 1980s over Japan/US competitive car production, to the casual racism surrounding the Asian model minority myth and the gross hypersexualization of Asian women.

We must deal with the ugly truth: this country is built on and invested in upholding white, male, straight, Christian dominance. Full stop. From the day of its ‘founding,’ that has been its sole goal. And while it is true we have come a long way, there is no denying that a significant amount of our populace still acts in the preservation of this dominance, intentionally and otherwise. Some are our friends. Our neighbors. Our spouses. Our kids. Our clergy. Our legislators. Our teachers. Our co-workers. Our bankers. Our doctors. Our police officers. Ourselves. And they come in all shades, ethnicities, sexual orientations, faiths, genders, professions, etc. That is how ingrained and internalized white supremacy is in our society. No system or community is untouched.

And before people get offended: you know what’s worse than calling something or someone racist? Experiencing and being a victim of racism—and dying from it. Sit with that.

So, we must do more than condemn these racist acts. Thoughts and prayers are a nice gesture, but they do little to bring about sorely needed change without action. That includes having uncomfortable conversations about racism, acknowledging its historical and current damage, and then consciously, methodically, and deliberately putting practices and policies in place to make those affected as whole as possible. “But, but but…look at the Constitution! The Civil Rights Act! President Obama is Black! Vice President Harris is Asian and Black! We can’t possibly be racist! Or we’re not really that racist, like back in slavery!” But we still are: the proof lies in tragedies like the one in Atlanta, and in the microaggressions and systemic discrimination BIPOC face each and every day.

This may be land of the free, but it bears repeating: no one is free until we are all free—from racism.

For resources and ways to support the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community, please click here. Other helpful resources include:

By Cerlyn CantaveEngagementEquity & Inclusion Associate of Children’s HealthWatch