By Sze Wong, Founder and CEO of Zerion Software
The question was raised on whether we, as a company, should issue a statement on the current unrest that is ripping through the country. As an Asian American, I have a unique perspective on the topic of racism in this country. I have always shied away from talking about it. This time around, instead of issuing a statement, I think I should share my thoughts as a person.
I came to this country more than a quarter of a century ago in pursuit of happiness. A quarter of a century later, I lead a happy and relatively successful life. I call this place home and I love this country.
I used to tell people that there is very little racism in this country. For the most part, you are rewarded for your effort, and the opportunities are fair. Yes, I sometimes noticed a difference in how people treated me when I was with white friends vs. when I was with my Asian friends, but that’s very minor. When I got pulled over by a cop, I almost always got away with it. One time I even start pitching iFormBuilder to the cop since we were working on an electronic ticketing system.
For a long time, I was the only non-white person sitting around meeting tables. Sure I often didn’t react fast enough when having arguments and was interrupted when my point was not strong enough, but that too was very minor. I felt most people respected me as a person and treated me fairly. As long as I worked hard, I had opportunities to advance.
So, I thought people who screamed “racism” all the time must be lazy. The opportunities were there, they just did not work hard enough to grab them.
See, I bought into the mindset of the ‘model minority.’ I did not understand this until much later in life. Model minority is the theory that if a particular minority group is able to advance in society, there must not be systematic oppression. Asian Americans, in particular, were held as the model.
The problem is, that is simply not true. Once upon a time, Asian Americans were also under systematic oppression.
Back in 1873, when a young Chinese American who was born in the US traveled back to the country, he was held at the border. His citizenship was questioned. At the time, Chinese Americans were discriminated against. Less than 10 years later, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It singled out Chinese as ‘not welcome in this country.’
It was not until after World War II that Asian Americans started being treated better. Since then, Asian Americans have started to close the achievement gap. As I learned about this, I started to research. I started reading about how African American boys were given ‘the talk’ when they grew up. I learned ‘Driving While Black’ was a thing. I started to see a systematic problem around us.
Today, our country went into chaos because Geroge Floyd was murdered. We must not treat it as a one-off issue. We must accept there is a systematic problem and address it head-on. We must act.
I am not writing this as the CEO of Zeiron Software. I am writing this as a proud American who believes as a country, we can do better.