Photo: Flickr Creative Commons
By Christopher Kang, National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
We live in anxious times.
We probably always will.
And I don’t say this lightly.
I’ll never shake the memories of the times I sprinted out of my office in the Senate or rushed down the steps of the Capitol in panicked evacuation because planes had come too close and were possible terrorist attacks.
Sometimes when I’m awake late at night and hear a long round of sirens outside, I’ll flip through channels and refresh websites to see if there has been a terrorist attack in the area. I know this isn’t rational, but that’s the point — fear isn’t always rational.
But these days, I find myself anxious about something else.
I am worried that too many Americans are starting to give in to this climate of fear and apprehension and that hate, prejudice, and violence will continue to rise. And that our country — one that has made great strides to expand equality, with more work to be done — will instead start to move backwards to greater intolerance and discrimination.
As concern about terrorism increases, so too does our urge to be vigilant. Everyone from the President to my office building management reminds me about “See Something Say Something” — if you see something suspicious, say something to law enforcement.
While I recognize that this initiative has been a successful tool in stopping terrorism, it also can have a negative impact on people of different backgrounds. What if the “suspicious behavior” is simply an airline passenger speaking Arabic? Or Sikh American football fans wearing turbans while attending a game? Or scientists who happen to be Chinese American?
The Department of Homeland Security notes that “Factors such as race, ethnicity, and/or religious affiliation are not suspicious.” But in the overall campaign, that message is often buried and becomes fine print, like user agreements when we update our phones.
I don’t mean to blame the “See Something Say Something” initiative, but I am concerned that too many Americans are using the threat of terrorism to justify their suspicion and prejudice — which will lead to more hatred, division, and violence.
So I actually would like to expand how we think about “See Something Say Something:”
If you see bias, bigotry, or bullying, say something.
If you see profiling, prejudice or discrimination, say something.
If you see hateful rhetoric, vandalism or acts violence, say something.
Hopefully, in your day-to-day life, you will not see someone being profiled or discriminated against or see an act of violence. If you do, hopefully you will have the courage and compassion to step in and say something — to stop the prejudice and to show our fellow Americans that they are not alone.
For those of us who may not witness something troubling in person, we nonetheless know that bigotry is on the rise, but often, we are uncertain — what can we say and who would we say it to? So instead, we say nothing, allowing the voices of hate to dominate and overwhelm us.
Now is the time to say something.
Even if you aren’t Muslim, Sikh, Arab, or South Asian American.
Especially if you aren’t.
Only if all Americans stand united will we push back this wave of hatred. And here are just a few examples of how:
When you see politicians spread offensive rhetoric that appeals to the least of America instead of our best, say #WeAreBetterThanThis.
When you see a Sikh student being bullied or harassed — like the 67% of turbaned Sikh youth in Fresno, California — say that you will Act To Change. And stand with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Sikh Coalition.
And when you see something empowering — like Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders standing in solidarity with our Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian American brothers and sisters — say something by joining us. And stand with the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA).
The voices of love are being drowned out by those of hate — not because we are outnumbered but because they are shouting while we remain silent.
It’s time to stand up to fear, prejudice, and hate.
It’s time to see something, say something.