On Racism

On May 31, 2020, I wrote these words (on Instagram) days after George Floyd was killed:

I am a brown person. I am an immigrant. I am Southeast Asian. I am Malaysian. And I am an American.

I’m a third culture kid. I came to the States at 19, alone. I’ve lived here for 22+ years, and at 42 years old, it’s been the longest place I have ever lived.

In that time, I have had my share of racism. In 2010, a year after we moved to SF, I was walking through the Stockton tunnel towards Chinatown to meet my wife. As I walked through, a young white man, with a shaved head, pointed a finger gun at me while passing me by, touched the tip to my chest, and smiled.

My name is another way racism has been used against me. In full, it is Nazarin Bin Abdul Hamid Hussain. I’m sure that conjures up something, given its Arabic roots. I’ve mostly always gone by Naz Hamid, a concession to ease of pronunciation and tiredness of having to repeat Nazarin many times when introducing myself.

Numerous times in Chicago, I would send an email on Craigslist in search of an apartment, or bike parts, or whatever and never hear anything. As soon as I had a friend do it, they’d hear back immediately. It got so, that by the time Jen and I decided to find a place together, she sent the inquiries. Because my name alone wouldn’t garner any response.

I have had to adapt, become a chameleon, and work hard to be able to achieve what I have. In recent years, I realize that coming out of my teens, I repressed much of it, just to get along and fit in, when I arrived here. Today, I’m most fortunate that I live in a city that has a decent semblance of diversity (but let’s face it, SF could be better). I try not to be judgmental and have empathy. I try to understand that everyone has their own story and context for how they got to where they are. But for a lot of people, that barrier, that hurdle can be sky-high, impenetrable, and even out of reach. Sometimes when I hear that something inconvenienced you, I quietly think to myself that I wish that was the only thing that was an “inconvenience” to me.

This is my experience. I don’t know what it’s like to be black. But I know racism. And that’s why I stand in solidarity.

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Yesterday, when 8 women — 6 Asian — were murdered in Atlanta, I was sadly unsurprised. The weariness of the past year and some of the feelings brought up made me seek a breather this year. Just a little. But by lunchtime, and by the evening, I was fully infuriated with a full spectrum of emotion imbuing my core — angry at this preventable and despicable killing, at the way the media has reported this (you're only helping uphold the system that fostered this), the way the "authorities" have responded, excusing it as "a bad day," "at the end of his rope," and of course questioning every encounter I've had with people. I have realized in hindsight, that some encounters I've had — some in the workplace, and some day-to-day — have been tinged with bias and discrimination.

The lens through which people look at me, at us, makes me realize that even if you don't know it, you're suppressing others because it's the environment and culture that supports and places being white at the top spot.

I'm not going to tell you what to do, or what you should do. If you didn't do the work last year, and aren't actively doing it now, well, you better start.

I worry deeply about a world that sees more division amongst its inhabitants than commonality, that looks at difference as a way to alienate and discriminate. I worry that when I enter a discussion, or experience an encounter, I have to look at it through multiple lenses — with suspicion being up there. I worry that when I wake up today, someone is removed from this earth because of something preventable.

I worry that we have lost whatever it was that made us human.