We have all witnessed the recent escalation of violent attacks against Asians and it is sickening and heart breaking.
In my lifetime I have seen hatred and violence against the Black community, Hispanics, Muslims and now the ire has shifted openly to the Asian community. It seems that every time you turn on the tv, go to a news site, or look around, we are witnessing an ever-increasing level of hate against one community or another. Recent reports of over 4,000 attacks hardly reflect the true flavor of what’s happening. The sad truth is that far too many physical attacks on Asians and Pacific Islanders go unreported because the victims simply don’t want to talk about the embarrassing and humiliating degradations.
Many of us come from backgrounds that sadly have seen or are seeing their share of discrimination and societal suffering. My mother is a North Korean war refugee. When she arrived here in 1957 to the sight of the Statute or Liberty, she enjoyed the amazing welcome by many. However, she too felt the sting of racial resentment and acts of discrimination.
My mom is one of the toughest people I know, and she never let a slight or statement affect her persistent determination. Whether it be when my parents were denied housing because they were a “mixed race” family, not allowed to participate in gainful employment, or suffering from some form of indignation, physical or verbal, she remained grateful for the opportunity to experience so many freedoms that were unheard of in her birth nation.
Growing up in an interracial family, some of my siblings and I found ourselves fending off physical fights after being subject to the verbal name calling that came with growing up in the 1970’s with obvious Asian features.
Who would have thought decades later, in the 1990’s, while seeking the nomination for General Assembly, the then-Union County State Committeewoman would approach a group of people and ask “who here is Kevin O’Toole?” and then say upon learning that I was Kevin O’Toole: “you can’t be Kevin O’Toole, your eyes are like this,” as she proceeded to pull both of her eyes to narrow them.
Over a decade later, while running for the Senate, the not-so silent hand of racism would rear its ugliness when my opponent, in a blatant effort to stir racial waves, sent a mailer of me and Reverend Al Sharpton, referring to us as Affirmative Action babies. My opponent and the then-Bergen GOP leadership claimed that 3 incumbents lost their seats because I was a minority. A front page newspaper story noted the race baiting election as the consultant to my opponent said, “we didn’t give him a more jaundiced look to his skin…”
After winning that primary, on my Mom’s birthday, that consultant’s crude and offensive techniques were rewarded with him being banned by the GOP state party and Republican Assembly and Senate office holders. That consultant later pled guilty to an unrelated criminal charge.
The reality is these offenses are nothing compared to the assaults and attacks that are being experienced today against Asian Americans who simply look like a certain way.
This hate against Asians must stop. The hate against the Black community must stop. The hate against Hispanics must stop. Any and all hatred against someone based on religion, gender or other identifier must stop.
We all need to work together to protect each other. We need to welcome everyone and practice acceptance, love and understanding. It shouldn’t be this hard, but the sad truth is that we still struggle with it. In a society that has endured so much during the past year, the last thing that any of us should have room for is hate.