by Matt Chan
What happened to Seattle elementary school teacher, Kert Lin, this past week at the Lander Home Depot should never happen to anyone. Kert was the target of an unprovoked racist verbal attack … an attack by someone who is so steeped in his own racial privilege that intimidating someone based on their race was just a mean joke.
I am 67 years old and know a few things about racism. The one truth is that being on the receiving end of a racist attack is one of the loneliest places in the world. It’s primal and frightening. You’re alone facing a person or a gang of people who hate you because of the color of your skin. You are forced to make split second decisions that can mean life or death for yourself or those you love. When confronting a toxic mix of rage, ignorance, and entitlement, there are no good choices other than survival. The one thing that is certain — a victim of racism never views life the same, and each incident in your life holds its own unique horror.
There were a number of players in the attack on Kert Lin. The staff and management at Home Depot, by-standers who didn’t intervene or help, but the most egregious party to the attack was the Seattle Police Department. When Officer Jones shrugged off the incident it spoke volumes to me of the hollowness of words spoken by Chief Best and Mayor Durkan saying acts of racial bias and hate will not be tolerated and that all incidents must be reported and acted upon. Clearly Officer Jones didn’t get the memo. No amount of public relations, public service announcements, or celebrity spokespersons will mitigate the disrespect Kert Lin received from the Seattle Police Department. Public displays of concern might make liberal Seattle feel good about their city, but the harsh reality has never been clearer for Seattle’s non-white residents: you don’t really matter.
Which brings me to another awful truth. Certain Asian Americans have enjoyed their own level of privilege. They enjoy a level of education, wealth, and influence not afforded to many people of color. Yes, they worked hard to achieve this success, but they also never bore the brunt of systemic institutionalized racism that other groups have. That has all changed in the era of Trump and COVID-19. The veil has been removed and these same Asian Americans are up in arms that their accomplishments, education, and status does not protect them. “Don’t they know who I am?” Racists don’t care. They hate you simply for being different, you are in that moment a target of their rage, hate, and self-loathing for all their personal failures.
The racial attack on Kert Lin at Home Depot by the owner of Pacific Northwest Land Care was horrible, but there is some good that has come out of it. To see the Asian American community rise up to support Kert and renounce the actions of Home Depot and the SPD is inspiring. This support has led to the media taking note of the incident and spreading the shame of it widely. So, in this month when we celebrate our Asian Pacific American heritage let us not forget that we need to support all marginalized groups as well, because united we can change the system.
Matt Chan has been in the media for nearly 45 years and is the creator and Executive Producer of the A&E Network’s hit show HOARDERS. In “retirement” he produces videos to support community non-profits and teaches at the UW.
Featured image photo credit: Backbone Campaign.