An East Harlem Woman's Racism Experience in the Time of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 16
It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-February when I was on my way home from an inspiring lecture by a young artist, who painted and captured the beauty of ordinary people who lived on the streets of Harlem. She shared her love for Harlem’s history, its significance for African American people like her, and her hope for continuing the movement that had begun here.
As an Asian American woman who grew up in the States, admiring works by Black artists was often the closest thing I had to see my experiences in this country reflected. As I reimagined the artist’s words from the lecture, staring up at the purple-blue sky as I walked home, a large, middle-aged man approached me, glaring at me with disdain and shouted, “What the f**k are you doing here? Get the f**k out of here, Chink!”
My breathing stopped. The joy I’d felt just a minute earlier had been stripped entirely. I turned my head to look at him wanting to fight back, but withdrew because I was alone with him in an empty alleyway.
My stomach and jaw tightened. I quickly walked home and then kept myself busy with schoolwork to shake off this unexplained hatred I’d never before felt from another human. At that time, Covid-19 had just begun to spread across South Korea, Japan and Italy. I was still dressing normally, in a large winter coat and not yet wearing any mask or gloves. But even then, my Asian physical appearance was too obvious to hide; this man assaulted me.
In my room, I sat in silence thinking of the coronavirus joke made at me by another man just the week before while I ate lunch at the Soho Whole Foods near my job downtown. More disturbingly, I was becoming increasingly convinced that a random physical attack I’d endured a couple weeks earlier by a mentally ill woman not far from my home on East 125th could have, in fact, been motivated by racism.
I went to church the next day, prayed with a deaconess, and then later shed warm tears in my room.
My neighborhood has sadly been plagued with the evils of racism for generations. The church must be diligent in recognizing biases against all races, and mourn the attacks against any ethnic and racial group here. And we who experience racism need to truly understand forgiveness as described by Jesus in extending forgiveness, “seventy-seven times.” We all must continue to seek transformation by the Holy Spirit daily (Matthew 18:21-22).
As time has gone on, the prolonged stares my family has received on the streets and the recent assaults I experienced confirm that the brokenness in our world is far from being resolved and will be an ongoing cycle if we allow it.
Our ideation of social justice needs to be rooted in a deeper love that can only be found in Jesus. It is only by the power of the cross we will see true redemption, and catch glimpses of the world in the way it was meant to have been.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-23
Would you please join me in praying for those experiencing racism in our neighborhood and in our city?