The Importance of Pressing Play / by Cassandra Lam

I went to bed late last night with the bloodstained shirts of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile seared into my mind's eyes. Those images, and the thought of all those who died before, haunted me well into today, following me around like ghosts. 

Like many of you, I haven't been sleeping much this week. Over the past 2 days, I've attempted to carve out time to properly process the context surrounding the Alton Sterling shooting. Overwhelmed by the controversial nature of his death, I took to writing, seeking solace from the dark things we've seen unfold online. Putting pen to paper helped me find my footing in order to sort through my conflicted emotions. As I poured myself empty, my head and heart started to clear. My notes started to naturally flow more like the beginnings of a decent blog post. I thought maybe it was something even worth sharing.

But before I could finish sorting out my anguish, before I could read my saved draft one last time, before I could assess whether I should go public with my thoughts, we all found ourselves watching another video. This time, it was Facebook Live and what we saw was somehow even more terrifying, graphic, and damning. So at 3AM EST, alone in my hotel room, I watched, re-watched, and cried.

I didn't get the chance to finish writing about one man's death before I watched another man die. The magnitude of that statement alone weighs so heavily on me. It tastes so bitter on my tongue.

For most of you, this website comes as a surprise. Over the past few months, I've been secretly tinkering with it in all of my spare time. It was sincerely exciting to think of the day when I could share it with all of you, my friends and family. In preparation for the debut, I wanted to craft the perfect first post. But in light of recent events, this 'perfect blog post' that I had written no longer seemed appropriate, relevant, or right.

At the heart of it all, my main goal for this blog was to create a safe space where people (myself included) could engage in powerful discourse. From the controversial or outright messy (aka the stuff that keeps me up at night or makes me tick) to the fun or lighthearted (aka yoga, travel, food, life), I am passionate about utilizing this platform to connect with people in the way I know best. This blog is my way of starting conversations on topics that matter most to me in hopes that it inspires others to also do the same. 

With that said, in an ideal world, I never would have chosen to write about death. I hoped that I would never feel compelled to write about death. But the reality that we live in is such that I cannot in good conscience stand in silence any longer that I already have. 

In Jesse Williams' impassioned speech at the BET Awards, he said something that struck a chord with me:

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

That floating credit he references? It's not only white people who are guilty of this. In a way, it applies to non-black communities as well. Many of the privileges other minorities have are the indirect or direct result of oppression of the black community. Many of us benefit from this broken system in some way. So it applies to the Asian Pacific Islander community. It certainly applies to me.  

I grow increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I am able to wake up every morning without fear of a being racially profiled, harassed, or subject to an unjustified search. I know the likelihood of a police officer ever pulling a gun on me out of suspicion or fear that I'm potentially dangerous based on how I walk, talk, look, or breathe is slim to none. I am sickened by the false position of security afforded to me by the mere non-blackness of my skin because it renders me non-threatening in the eyes of a racist justice system. I choke on the fact that members of the black community are suffering and hurting in ways I can only imagine. I recognize that I live every day generally left in peace and unharmed because others are being targeted instead.

As an Asian-American woman who has mostly stayed out of the fray and kept her thoughts to herself or confined within private conversations with individuals, I want to say that I am sorry. I should have stepped out of the shadows in solidarity with you sooner. It was never the case that I didn't care, notice, or feel your pain as institutionalized racism destroyed lives, families, and communities. I was nervous that I wasn't educated or well-read enough on the issues at hand, unsure if it was my place to intervene, and scared to offend or to make mistakes. I know now that those things matter little in comparison to the displays of support and strength the black community needs on this path to dismantling a system designed, from the birth of our country, to succeed at the cost of black lives. Slavery was the bedrock on which white America's success was built and while the shackles are gone, the fight is not over; the battleground has simply shifted from plantations to prisons. If you don't think that's true, I suggest you read, starting with The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

After I found out about the Alton Sterling shooting, I admit it took me all day to develop the courage to watch the videos for myself. I turned to news articles instead, which somehow felt easier without the visuals. I read everything I could get my hands on over the course of 5 hours - right-wing responses, left-wing responses, articles from reputable news outlets, articles from questionable news outlets, opinions from pro-gun/pro-police advocates, opinions from anti-gun/anti-police advocates, social activist posts, blogs, and more. I purposefully sought out opposing viewpoints to fight my own biases.

But at the end of the day, I still chose to press play for both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Being woke is a conscious decision. It's asking yourself in the mirror every day if you're doing everything you can to alleviate suffering and promote understanding within your own networks. It's the act of breaking down the divisions to celebrate differences. It's the desire to open your heart and mind to people who don't look like you. It's lending your voice to speak loudly, sometimes angrily, on behalf of others. It's a commitment you renew every day to fight the desensitivity that tempts you into turning the other cheek. It's the decision to press play each and every time so that you can remember what you saw and humanize the names of those who died yet live through your hashtags.

If you open your eyes to the injustice, you can start to recognize it. If you see the dead bodies, you can begin to understand the level of suffering. If you commit to learning about what you don't know, you can educate others. If you let the truth motivate your actions, you can find a place for yourself in this fight. 

In solidarity, I stand with you.