When I was nine, I knew I was different because someone grabbed their own eyes, pulled them wide, and yelled, “Ching chong.” Someone told me my dad had killed his dad in the Vee-ut-nam War. And no one on TV looked like me.
That summer, someone had spraypainted a swastika on my dad’s business. My dad painted over it, but on those hot humid days, we could still see that Nazi symbol like an angry pulsing scar.
We got a message on our answering machine — maybe the same Nazi artists — who spent a good ten minutes making fun of my dad’s accent. I remember seeing my dad listen to it several times, staring quietly out a window. When he noticed me, he turned it off and said, “Just boys playing a joke.” The voices were from grown men.
Someone told me that racism is dead today. But I look at these racist tweets, I encounter cashiers who slow down their speech, I get called Bruce in the mall, I still get “ching chong” from five year old boys with their mothers who don’t correct them — and I think of that swastika that wouldn’t go away. I think of my dad, who wanted to protect me from the ugly hearts of men. He wanted to give me a better world than this.
I hardly ever talk about my race here. But no, racism is not dead today. There is still ignorance and malevolence in our bones. We are foolish enough to say “Just relax” and “race card” and “race bait” when anyone who says these things could never understand the physical and mental abuse that my family and I have suffered over our skin color.
I love our country and I cannot imagine living anywhere else: but no one must presume that the fight for equality is over. To say so only exposes our laziness and lack of humanity. There is still too long to go. And I hope you take this as seriously as I do, because justice needs a voice that will stand out of its chair and speak.
I am a Korean-American Christian, but I am also a human being. Under these eyes and skin is a heart that beats furiously for unity, for the chance to live in a land without fear. I will die believing this dream is still possible, and I will live fighting for my father’s world. I will hope.