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I know there are people out there who want this to be about country vs. country.
East vs. West.
They want this to be about politics.
Left vs. right.
But this isn’t about that.
To me, it’s simple. This moment we’re living through is about darkness vs. light.
As a human race, it feels like we’re at a crossroads right now. I know that social media and our ever-updating newsfeed is probably not the best representation of humanity, but it’s the only mirror we have, right? It’s the only thing we’re all looking at every day, every hour. And that little screen is reflecting back the best and the worst of us in the middle of a crisis we’ve never seen before.
Can we honestly say that we’re proud of what we see in the mirror?
Recently, everyone in the U.S. has been asking me about the coronavirus in China. Everyone in China is asking me about the U.S. When I sit back to reflect on my experience, I’m not proud. I honestly went back and forth on whether I would even want to write about this part since it’s legit embarrassing.
When the COVID-19 outbreak started, I was at the epicenter of it all. And I didn’t take it remotely seriously. Maybe it’s just human nature, I don’t know. People were dying in the country where I was playing basketball, in the country where my grandparents were born and raised, and what was I thinking about? Honestly, I was only thinking about myself.
When the CBA shut down, I looked at it like, “Alright, whatever, at least I’ll get back to California to see my family, eat In-N-Out burgers and catch my breath before the season starts back up.” To be honest, I was actually excited — I’m always down for a trip home and a double-double animal style.
It’s like the crisis wasn’t real to me. People were suffering and all I could think about was chillin’ and fast food.
Then, everything started unraveling.
The cases started to appear in the U.S. Then one morning I woke up in a cold sweat and panicked when I started getting a sore throat — worried that I had the virus, and thinking about all the loved ones I might have infected if I did. (Thank God it was just a cold.)
It’s like the crisis wasn’t real to me.
Then the NBA shut down. Games were canceled mid warm-up. Things started feeling a little bit more real.
Then California went into lockdown. I couldn’t go anywhere, do anything. Cases started to be discovered close to where I had been training. Family and friends texted me out of concern.
Then the New York cases started rapidly increasing. I worried for my older brother and his family currently living in Brooklyn.
You would think that I would’ve been more prepared for it, coming from China and seeing my own season suspended, but honestly, it was just as shocking for me. It was like watching something from a disaster movie, each surreal step hitting closer and closer to home.
Suddenly, the compassion and genuine concern I should have had earlier was hitting in full force, because now this had a direct impact on ME.
You know, I’ve been trying so hard to think of what to say over these past few days. I’ve had nothing to do but think. (That’s quarantine life haha.) Thinking about what an idiot I was, but also about how I had to find a way to make a difference — even if I’m back in Beijing halfway across the world.
It’s so strange to see traffic returning to Beijing and people returning to work, and then see the photos back in the U.S. of an empty Times Square. Soooo, I’ve just been sitting here, going around in circles, and this was all I could come up with.
Life’s so crazy and 2020’s such a trip. None of us are actually in control, and the world is actually really small. With all our normalities gone, all we’re left with is us. Us as a collective human race. Over the last month, we have seen the best and worst of humanity. We’ve seen the remarkable courage of the healthcare workers rushing to the frontlines, many who have lost their lives in the fight to treat patients. The spirit of the people in quarantine singing songs together from their balconies. The restaurants forced to close to the public rallying their workers to provide meals to hospitals. The volunteers getting groceries for their elderly and immunocompromised neighbors.
There’s a lot of good, a lot of hope, a lot of light.
But we also need to talk about the darkness.
You know, my whole life, I’ve been treated a certain way because I’m Asian. I’ve been called a chink, orch dork and chicken lo mein more than enough times. I’ve even been asked if I can see. I’ve been told to go back to where I came from. During the height of “Linsanity,” I was still the butt of many Asian jokes.
I just got used to it.
I didn’t want to make any waves. I didn’t want everything to always be about me being an Asian-American. I just wanted to hoop. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t have anything to really complain about.
It was just words.
But over the last few weeks, as the tension and anxiety in the U.S. has gone through the roof, we’re seeing that there’s a real darkness beneath the words. It’s not just trash talking or trolling or hateful speech. Asian Americans are being spit on, yelled at, and physically attacked in their own country. In Midland, Texas, a man tried to stab a family with two young children because they were Asian. In just the first two weeks of data organization Stop AAPI Hate’s existence, over 1,100 cases of coronavirus discrimination were reported. (And this is only including people who knew enough about the organization to call.) Every Asian American I know knows someone who has been targeted during this time. In fact, anti-Asian racism is rapidly increasing all over the world. It’s so crazy and sad.
This is deeply personal for me. People who I love very much, my own friends and family in America, are genuinely scared to leave their homes. At a time when Asian Americans are just as affected and anxious as anyone else about the crisis, they have to deal with this added layer of fear?!?
Listen, I get it. I’m just as selfish and self-absorbed as the next person. Throughout my life, my career and my own comfort has mattered way too much to me. But I’ve always been an optimistic dreamer. And I believe that in the midst of this darkness, we can choose light.
In the middle of a pandemic where the whole world is just fighting to survive, it would seem obvious to me that there’s no room for side battles, the blame game or bigotry. But that isn’t reality, so here we are.
Every Asian American I know knows someone who has been targeted during this time.
And even though we shouldn’t have to simultaneously fight the virus and racism, I will stand tall and join alongside those boldly speaking out. In the midst of the hate and negativity, let’s continue to call out racism and stand proud in our Asian identities. But this is the truth: the “model minority” is a myth — putting our heads down and only focusing on the success of our own families and our own tribe has not and will not protect us. We must continue to speak up and fight racism and xenophobia in ANY form. The encouragement that we feel when people who aren’t affected by this speak up and fight for us — whether it’s Black and Hispanic congressional leaders, Cardi B, Mark Ruffalo or my old teammate Malcolm Miller — let’s continue to do more and more of that for ourselves and others.
I definitely need to. We all need to. We all — whatever our race, nationality, age — have it in us to be better.
But MAKE NO MISTAKE about it. If your only takeaway from this article is about racism, then I’ve failed in communicating. Again, at a time like this that requires everyone uniting to survive, COVID-19 shouldn’t be about East vs. West, politics, race or anything other than helping as many people as we can survive. Serving as many hungry people as we can. Comforting as many fearful people as we can. Loving as many hurt people as we can — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. These are what should be the main takeaway. And all that ultimately comes down to light vs. darkness.
Truth is, we have it in us to be the light, because there are already millions choosing to be the light every day. No one knows how devastating the impact of this crisis will be, but the projections aren’t good. We’re going to be recovering from this for a long time. But in the process, there will be so, so many opportunities to choose light.
It doesn’t have to be flashy or heroic. Choosing light could just be checking on a friend who is mentally struggling. It could be showing extra appreciation for your delivery person or standing up for someone who is being bullied. Sharing positivity or supporting your favorite local bookstore or restaurant during this hard time. It could even just be honoring a lockdown or stopping yourself from posting a hateful comment online.
The road ahead won’t be easy. There will be times when it feels like the darkness is too much. Each day when the death tolls climb, when the unemployment rates continue to surge, when the next news story of a hate crime breaks, it might feel as if the negativity is insurmountable.
But please, if you’re feeling hopeless, even right now, remember you’re not alone in this. We will grieve together, we will adapt together, and eventually we will thrive together. At the end of all this, we will take a long look in the mirror, and we won’t be able to lie to ourselves about how we acted.
I believe we’ll be proud of what we see.
Each act of goodness matters. Each positive choice will add up.
In adversity, we will persevere. In challenges, we will overcome. In fear, we will have faith. And in darkness, we will be Light.
Thanks for reading, love you all!
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:5
One simple way to be the light is to support organizations doing crucial work during the crisis. I will be donating $500,000 to Direct Relief and Feeding America and matching all donations up to an additional $500,000. I’ll also be highlighting organizations that are shining a light into the darkness
at this time, as well as exploring more ways for us all to get more involved. Open to all ideas! Share your ideas or stay tuned for more updates on Instagram at @jlin7.