Minutes into my FaceTime conversation with Anthea Yur about the recent anti-Asian attacks around the country, I was struck by her vigor for change, as I seek ways to offer support.
"Realistically, we're the underbelly of racism that's never addressed and always overlooked," said Yur, an activist and organizer who works with Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence and is also active in Black Lives Matter.
When marginalized communities are hurting, allyship without the input of those affected can be a self-serving enterprise. Yet, asking anyone to speak on behalf of a diverse community stitched together with people of all backgrounds and origins is unfair. Yur described the sentiment and fear, however, that struck her community after a series of crimes targeting Asians, including last month's mass shooting in Acworth, Ga., which killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women.
Cherokee County sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker said the white assailant charged in the shootings, Robert Aaron Long, committed the acts after a "bad day," while dismissing questions about Long having racially motivated intentions.
Just last week, a man attacked a 65-year-old Asian woman in New York City. As I watched the video on Monday, I wondered why two men standing nearby did not intervene. All involved appeared to be Black. Brandon Elliot, 38, has been charged with assault and hate crimes in the attack.
Instead of using this moment as an opportunity for solidarity, some recent conversations have instead centered on the challenges between the Asian and Black communities, as both address their wounds after traumatizing acts of violence.
"The first step is even acknowledging the Acworth killings were racially motivated," Yur said. "And the second step is, obviously, in Minneapolis not so much, but all across the country, there is a lot of racial tension. There is this white supremacist theory that, 'Well, Black people are the ones committing these crimes against Asians.' You keep hearing it. These incredibly ignorant people are trying to pit these minority groups against each other."
It's the American way. Our country is so steeped in racism that the role of racial animus in these incidents is often minimized. But a fish immersed in water might not think it is wet.
Because of systemic racism, fueled by white supremacy, both the Asian and Black communities have drowned in the vitriol of generational hatred, the policy it has encouraged and the animosity it has instigated.
Kimberly Colbert, a 61-year-old north Minneapolis resident, is the daughter of a Japanese mother and a Black father. Her rearing within two cultures encouraged her career path. She is a teacher and a former racial equity organizer for Education Minnesota, the union representing the state's educators. While she saw firsthand the division between two communities, she also knows the power of their unity.
"One of the things, that because of who I am, that I've always really desired was to see more solidarity and more connection," she said.
My Asian brothers, sisters and nonbinary siblings have changed my life. My best friend. My childhood buddies. Whenever I travel to California, I call my Asian homies first. Mentors. Teachers. Colleagues.
But these relationships should encourage a commitment to action against the anti-Asian attacks spreading throughout this country. Last week, I called Bo Thao-Urabe, executive director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders based in St. Paul, and asked her: What should my support look like?
"When we're trying to work across communities, it is to determine what they need from us. That's really the starting place. 'How would you like me to show up?' Or 'How can I be a good ally?' " she said. "And it is about cultivating that allyship."
During her childhood in Iowa, Yur's family didn't have those allies. She and her family were routinely subjected to racist slurs and vandalism of their home. But she is a fighter from a long line of them.
Although we're more than a decade apart in age, we learned we'd had similar experiences. Being told we were given prestigious internships only because we were minorities. Encounters with passive-aggressive Minnesotans in conversations around race. Learning, only later in life, we were the "one minority friend" in some of our social circles.
I have not lived her life. But I understand her.
And I could see the weight of what she's carrying. She has devoted herself to the pursuit of racial equity. She routinely makes space for other communities. And she has sacrificed career aspirations to protest in places, such as Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., and France.
Midway through our conversation, she paused. I could see her raising her left hand toward her face as the tears began to fall. At first, I did not know what to say.
"This is heavy, you know?" I told her. "And you are young but you're also amazing. I hope you know that. To be 27 and to put yourself out there like that is really inspiring."
She took a deep breath.
"It's really hard," she said. "You know, it's really nice to have someone in the Black community, even though you've never met me, say, 'Hey, I see you.' "