Editor’s Note: American gymnast Morgan Hurd is a five-time world medalist and 2017 world all-around champion. She will be competing for the first time since March 2020 at this Saturday’s U.S. Classic in Indianapolis. Peacock coverage of the first session begins at 1 p.m. ET; Hurd will be competing in the second session at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
By Morgan Hurd
It was last summer when I started to find my voice. The murder of George Floyd felt like the final straw. I didn’t want the platform that I was blessed with to go to waste and I wanted people to know where my morals stood.
I started sharing information and attending protests. At first I was nervous about how my actions would be perceived. I worried that my speaking up would affect my place on the U.S. gymnastics national team and future team selections. I came to the conclusion that, despite those concerns, I am a person first and gymnast second.
I was born in Guangxi, China, in 2001. I was adopted at eleven months old by an American family. Growing up in a white family and in a predominantly white community in Delaware, I felt disconnected from the Asian American community, something I didn’t realize until interacting with others that actually look like me. It hardly crossed my mind that my mother and I were different races until my peers at school started making remarks about my appearance.
Over the past few years, that disconnected feeling has only intensified. Although I look like my Asian American friends, I began to realize that we were raised significantly differently. My friends and I would talk about restaurants in the area and they would say how the food didn’t taste “authentic” and I would just think how I never would have known that. Or they would tell me about celebrating holidays that I wasn’t aware existed.
I don’t think I really felt worthy enough to call myself a member of the AAPI community until I became not only afraid of my gender, but also my yellow skin tone…
While mainstream media only recently started highlighting the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, I noticed the spike far earlier: back in 2020, right when the pandemic began. Specifically, right after Donald Trump called it the “Chinese virus,” first tweeting the term to his millions of followers and then doubling down on national television.
Researchers have since confirmed what many of us feared then; in the weeks and months after Trump first used that racist term, there was a rise in anti-Asian hashtags and hate crimes.
His continued use of racist slurs in conjunction with COVID-19 helped justify racism towards Asian Americans. I cannot even begin to wrap my head around how some people think that every Asian either has COVID-19 or brought it here – despite the fact that most of us were either born here or have been here long before this virus was a thing. Nevermind the fact that most non-Asian Americans cannot even differentiate between the different ethnicities and will attack just any Asian. The Asian community cannot be blamed for the U.S. government’s incompetence in dealing with COVID-19.
Racism against Asian Americans is nothing new. In fact, much of this racism has become incredibly normalized in our society, disguised as microaggressions or alleged “jokes.”
From a young age, I – like many other Asian American children – dealt with remarks from my peers, such as “ching chong,” getting asked if I ate dog, having my small eyes mimicked, and more. If we showed hurt over these comments, we were told to “take a joke.” Eventually we learned to just sit back and take it, sometimes even making fun of ourselves and our culture in order to fit in. This is how racist remarks became normalized.
And of course, there are also the so-called “compliments” that perpetuate the model minority myth: the belief that all Asians achieve high success because they keep their head down and don’t cause trouble.
In reality, comments like these downplay and disguise the racism directed towards Asian Americans, and then pit Asians against other minorities.
When hate crimes against the Asian community started to increase at the beginning of the pandemic, it took a while for people to take notice because these incidents weren’t often portrayed as hate crimes. It even took time for the Asian community to speak up, both because of the model minority myth, and because much of the community felt like the violence against us is not as severe as it is against other minorities.
Eventually – after too many attacks – we started calling it out for what it is: racism.
In March, a friend posted on Instagram about an upcoming rally in New York’s Chinatown to protest the spike in anti-Asian violence. I knew it might be dangerous for me to venture into the city unaccompanied, but in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions of my life. I had never experienced such passion, energy, and sense of community before. I was inspired by the courage and passion each speaker brought to the stage.
But while I felt invigorated by the protest, that doesn’t mean attacks against the AAPI community stopped.
A few weeks later, an elderly Asian woman, Vilma Kari, was brutally attacked in front of a New York City building. Security inside the building responded by closing the doors on her and doing nothing. I felt absolutely disgusted after hearing this news and seeing the video – not only because the attacker targeted someone they knew would have a hard time fighting back, but also because the witnesses did absolutely nothing.
The same organizers of the first protest I attended, Jack Liang and Oliver Pras, put together a last-minute rally in Times Square on Easter Sunday.
Two days before, Jack messaged me asking if I wanted to speak at the rally. My first thought was “absolutely not.” Public speaking is not my forte and I am terrified by it.
But as I thought it through, I realized it was something I needed to do. I wanted to help bring even more awareness to the situation, be a representative in my community, and hopefully inspire others to use their voices.
My call to action is this: actively support the AAPI community. Reading this story is not doing enough. Being friends with someone who is part of the community or posting an infographic on social media is not doing enough. If you can, get out to protests/rallies, donate to organizations, sign petitions, and when you see racism happening, don’t just let it slide.
Do something about it.
Without action, racism remains normalized. Fear and hatred will continue to run the world. Silence is compliance and if you don’t take action, you are siding with violence.
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Silence is compliance: Morgan Hurd’s call to action originally appeared on NBCSports.com