Sometime around last Sunday, all of the personal ambitions I had obsessively been figuring out how to achieve started to seem self-indulgent and frivolous. Instead, I spent hours scrolling through my newsfeeds feeling restless and angry, and when I wasn't staring at my phone I was lying down, feeling heavy. Who cared about getting my essays published when people were getting disproportionately killed—whether by police or COVID-19—merely for being black? But the horror was also directed at myself: why did it take the murders of countless black people splashed all over Twitter and Facebook to get me to really, finally pay attention? What was I doing that it took me so long? Sure, I was against racism—in theory. But now it became searingly obvious that if I continued to do nothing, I was in fact part of the problem.
Before the protests began, I had been thinking about the importance of paying attention to context. I was totally wrong about coronavirus, I admitted to my parents—I'd brushed off their worry back in February as just so much Asian parent fretfulness. What I'd failed to consider was that I had put too much implicit faith in the authority figures here who were telling us that everything was fine, who in turn had put too much faith in the notion that it couldn't happen here—as if America were somehow immune to the ills that afflicted other countries. Relying solely on authority, it struck me now, was a shortcut that bypassed real reasoning. And further, if other people's well-being directly impacted my own, as coronavirus was unequivocally showing me, then didn't I ignore the experiences of other countries, and groups I didn't think of as "my own," and history itself at my peril? That's as far as I got before the protests started and I realized that everything I had been thinking about was now immediately, terribly relevant.
I don't feel good about myself or the world right now. But I'm also pretty uninterested in feeling better about myself. My discomfort is what's forcing me to change the way I think and act, and it's what's making me finally recognize that my ability to turn away from racist violence and racism in general whenever I want is just one part of the immense privilege I've had my entire life. I've also spent most of my life skeptical that I could make any difference—what do I have to contribute, as naive and uncharismatic as I am? But that strikes me as the wrong way to look at things now, too. I might be naive and uncharismatic, but I exist in the world, in the community of all the other people who exist in the world, and thus it behooves me to do what I can to help the most vulnerable among us. I'm determined now to figure out how exactly I might do that.