By Lisa S. Wong, member of the Congregation Council and the Social Justice Committee
There’s a particular racism on the rise and each one of us has a role to play in stopping its spread.
I walk every day, rain or shine. This has been part of my daily routine for as long as I can remember. I walk because it gives me time to think and to pray. Most of the time, people passing by are so busy with their own lives, that they go about their business and leave me alone to my own thoughts. Recently though, that changed. The other day, a homeless man started yelling at me that I shouldn’t have brought “it” here. He was possibly on drugs or alcohol or mentally ill. He was also angry at me for bringing “it” here. I can only assume that the “it” he was referring to was the COVID-19 virus.
He picked me to yell at because of my face.
Did the man know that I’m a second-generation Chinese American San Franciscan unicorn? That I only speak English? That I haven’t travelled out of the country? That peanut butter is my favorite food?
Had he been open to seeing and listening to me, these are the things that I would have told him:
I’m more than my face. That the virus COVID-19 can make anyone sick (due to respiratory droplets spreading from person to person due to coughing, sneezing, or talking) regardless of their race or ethnicity. It is not a Chinese disease. You can’t catch the virus from eating Chinese food. COVID-19 has been reported in every continent except Antarctica.
There are many things we can do as a congregation to fight racism against Asians and people of Asian descent. We’re so proud of the letter sent by the Dean Malcom Young, Chapter and Staff of Grace Cathedral to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that endorsed the Board’s condemnation of the racialization of COVID-19. We’re also proud of the statement released by the San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC) addressing xenophobia and racism. We applaud the Executive Director of the SFIC, Michael Pappas, and the SFIC board members, including our Vice Dean and Canon for Social Justice, Dr. Ellen Clark-King, for their work on this statement, as well as our Bishop Marc Andrus for signing on to it. The Congregation Council will keep working to support our clergy and staff in their efforts to advocate for unity and togetherness. We also will be exploring ways in which we as a community can reach out to Asian and Asian American communities in the Bay Area. In the Year of Bridges, it seems that this is going to be a particularly important bridge to build.
We can also make a choice to educate ourselves on how to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe. We can take a stand with our neighbors who are Asian and of Asian-descent. We can speak up and educate when we hear or see racism. We can share information and links such as those at the end of this article with our loved ones and online communities. We can choose to be good, to be strong, to be wise, and most importantly, to be kind.
We are experiencing fear, anger, and hurt, as we adjust to our new lives. We have all been shaken like bottles of soda pop by recent events, and it will take a while for the bubbles to subside. We all have a role to play in this brave new world. Please choose to help, rather than to blame. Remember Fred Rogers’ mother’s advice to her son when he saw scary things: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” If you can’t find a helper, be a helper. Mr. Rogers’ said he was always glad to be your neighbor. Now is the time for us to show our gladness to all of our neighbors, including, especially, our Asian and Asian American neighbors. Be kind to your neighbor. She may be someone who is just going for a walk to think and to pray.