This current decade, a revisited “Roaring 20s”, may be remembered as an era of unprecedented violence, hate, and discrimination. While that may seem a shocking statement, scanning the headline news lately offers little hope for a bright, tolerant, and equitable future. The question stands as to how this nation can change course…

Ongoing anti-Asian sentiment, manifesting itself in verbal attacks, rising robberies, and the stunning massacre in Atlanta, is horrifying and wrong.

Thousands of Asians in America report feeling unsafe walking the streets. Long-standing Asian-American communities and businesses battle graffiti, petty crime, and harassment. In a country that likes to believe it offers a fair chance for opportunity and prosperity for all, this is shameful.

So what can be done?
A start is honoring our differences without allowing our differences to turn into “othering” and “us vs. them” thinking. Why? This kind of thinking – that there are divisions between groups of Americans that can’t be bridged, or that some groups are inherently better than others – allows discrimination and violence to continue.

Sadly, this divisive thinking seems to be encouraged by many of the established institutions in this country. Pitting one group against the other keeps both groups down and allows the status quo to continue. Hateful and racially charged language is used in mass media broadcasts and reporting, and all too often is left publicly posted on social media pages with no penalty for the users.

This state of affairs is why it feels radical – even revolutionary – to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to share workplaces, develop new businesses, and advance common goals. Why it can feel, on a daily basis, that those of us who work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion are pushing a boulder uphill, only to see it fall back again each evening.

The lack of deep institution support is why it is not possible to rely on mainstream institutions alone to guide our country away from division and strife. Too many groups, from lobbyists to politicians to media outlets hungry for clickbait and “if it bleeds, it leads” headlines, have a vested interest in allowing appalling acts of racism, sexism, and violence to continue. This may not be what it said publicly, but the actions (and inactions) of these players make it clear they cannot be relied upon to help in any meaningful capacity.

Instead, change begins much further down, much more locally, and much more individually. For communities to heal and thrive, residents must come together on a personal level to look after one another, nurturing connections and building bridges that cross traditional class, race, sex, and ethnic boundaries.

Is it easy work? Hardly!
It’s difficult to build meaningful relationships with people, full stop. It’s even more difficult than normal at present, where the lingering effects of quarantine and distancing keep so many people scared and isolated from one another. Yet, we owe it to ourselves – and future generations – to make the effort.

Building these individual-level bridges is essential to creating the space for mutual aid, and mutual survival. Allies, partners, and advocates aren’t born – they’re created through shared conversations, shared experiences, and shared interests. These also form the foundations of mentorship, friendship, and chosen families.

By coming together, working together, and looking out for each other, we can create a world where violence and discrimination are both rare and universally condemned. No excuses. No “well, it was a bad day” statements or brushing aside of community concerns.

United, we can make it possible. Perhaps not overnight, but soon. The country has drifted in troubling directions, but with individual actions and meaningful care for our neighbors and our communities, we can put things back on track for a better future.