(CNN)I know I'm not alone when I say, I've been subjected to various iterations of these hateful words for as long as I can remember: "now Googling how to not wake up with swollen, Asian eyes" and "Outdone by Asian #whatsnew." The problem is that many of us, Asians in America, have too often walked away from these racist encounters rather than speaking up and out about it. Admittedly, I adapted to a learned helplessness, redirecting my anger to proving my worth as an American, to prove that I belong, despite the way that I look. I unfairly placed that burden of proof on me. It's more than overdue now that we loudly condemn these kinds of injustices until our fellow Americans understand our pain and take action.
Teen Vogue EIC Alexi McCammond's apology to Asians isn't enough
Alexi McCammond, Teen Vogue's new editor in chief, may not realize that these decade-old tweets, conjure up profound feelings of marginalization that many of us Asians and Asian Americans feel in our gut each time a stranger mockingly pulls the ends of their eyes up at us or hurl racist or xenophobic slurs. In many ways, we've become accustomed to microaggressions and overt racism. This is our reality. But like a virus, these feelings never go away. They lay dormant until they're reactivated during an emotional and stressful encounter.
In a written apology to her staff on Monday, McCammond acknowledged her tweets, for which she apologized in 2019 only to gain renewed scrutiny after members of the Teen Vogue staff shared concerns about her new appointment, were "offensive, idiotic ... and perpetuated harmful and racist stereotypes about Asian Americans."
Her bigoted view may have been shared when she was a college student in 2011, but it is no less impactful today.
In fact, the timing of her being elevated to editor in chief of a progressive magazine while our nation is experiencing a wave of anti-Asian hate washing over it, could not be more significant.
While McCammond may be, as she expressed in Monday's apology, "heartbroken by the nasty vitriol" that Asians are experiencing right now, we are frightened for our lives. And although "this has been one of the hardest weeks of (her) life," as she shared on Twitter on Wednesday night, this past year has been among the most dangerous for Asians, who are increasingly the victims of unprovoked attacks.
Asians have a target on their backs, right now. This is the plain disturbing truth. I can't remember a time when I have worried for the safety of myself, my loved ones, and fellow Asians and Asian Americans simply because of the way we look. We are baselessly being blamed and scapegoated for the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been fueled in part by former President Donald Trump repeatedly calling it the "China Virus" or "Kung Flu." It's not lost on me that McCammond, too, worked as a political journalist of color during a racially charged time in our nation's history. Yet, it's difficult to see her as an ally when her past views perpetuated stereotypes and hate against one racial group. This is not to say that people cannot redeem themselves, but since McCammond will be in a position to lead a staff and control the narrative of a widely read publication, her attitude toward certain groups of people deserves to be scrutinized.
As I read the way she made fun of our "swollen, Asian eyes," I was reminded of the shame I felt and how I prayed as a child that God would give me a new set of eyes, each time I was mocked on the playground. I'm reminded of the day my elementary school teacher dismissed my complaints and told me to go back to my seat after being called "Ching Chong" girl or "Chink" among other slurs by my classmates. I'm reminded of the humiliating moment the receptionist of my former Ob-gyn alerted the entire office that the "Chinita" (little Chinese girl in Spanish) had arrived. I haven't had the misfortune yet of being blamed for the pandemic but tragically, I won't be surprised if and when that day comes.
My experience as an Asian American is a familiar one for the millions of Asians in the US.
Racism against Asians is nothing new. What's new is the surge of verbal and physical attacks against people of Asian descent since the Covid-19 pandemic. Discrimination against Asians began just as soon as the first wave of Chinese immigrants came to the US in the late 1800s. They were joining the immigrants coming from Germany, Ireland and England, yet it was the Chinese who were singled out in a federal law called the "Chinese Exclusion Act" that banned them from coming into the US. None of this was taught in any of my American history classes.
Asians have been an invisible minority for too long, largely due in part to the perpetual stereotype that Asians in America are smart, successful, and "crazy rich." This model minority myth is harmful. It renders us invisible in discussions about racism in America. I'm heartened to see many who've internalized the discrimination for years are now starting to open up. They are beginning to break through the cultural barriers that have conditioned us to keep our heads low and not attract any attention.
In response to McCammond's racist tweets and the subsequent backlash, Teen Vogue posted a statement on Instagram stating in part, "We respect and value our diverse community of Teen Vogue readers ... we're confident that Teen Vogue will continue to be a leader uplifting all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and marginalized communities ... We're excited to continue to get to work together ..."
Teen Vogue's Instagram statement missed the mark for Diana Tsui, editorial director of recommendation at The Infatuation, who posted on Instagram a series of text-based photos calling attention to McCammond's tweets. "When we ask for accountability and not cancellation we're asking for Alexi and Condé Nast to address the concerns that have been brought up in a meaningful way ... Being 'excited' to move forward means you want this to go away and be forgotten," Tsui wrote.
After saying it spoke with McCammond and the chief diversity officer at Condé Nast, The Asian American Journalists Association, in a public statement, expressed "grave concerns about Condé Nast's commitment to AAPI communities, especially given Teen Vogue's outsize reach and role in shaping the views and opinions of millions of young Americans." It went on to say that "there were no measures taken publicly by Condé Nast proactively reassuring its commitment to diversity and inclusion to its employees and to the AAPI community. This is discouraging, given Condé Nast's ownership of other publications that have been accused of discriminatory and racist behavior towards journalists of color and the rise in anti-Asian sentiments across the country. Condé Nast must make clear that its leaders at every level not only denounce the kind of views reflected in the deleted tweets, but also will examine and make transparent their hiring practices and policies." McCammond shared on Twitter on Wednesday that she was "heartened" by the conversation she had with AAJA and vowed, "In the coming weeks, I'll be putting together and sharing a more comprehensive plan about Teen Vogue's editorial commitment to uplifting and reflecting the true complexities and beauties of the AAPI community."
We, Asians, have forgiven for too long. Walking away has allowed the discrimination against us to persist often without repercussions.
At the same time, I believe in second chances. I believe people evolve and learn from life experiences. I believe McCammond when she says she is "deeply sorry." Given the current atmosphere of hate against Asians, my initial reaction was to call for McCammond to step aside, especially if her past anti-Asian comments cast doubt over her ability to effectively and fairly do her job and if her past views continue to make her employees and readers, particularly those of Asian descent, uncomfortable. After all, it was more than 20 Teen Vogue staffers who condemned her tweets in a letter to Condé Nast. After much deliberation, I feel it would be more beneficial to all for McCammond to find redemption while in her role but under the scrutiny of the Asian community, rather than canceling her for her past. I believe as one of the few people of color at the top of a media organization, she can become a trusted ally. But it will depend heavily on her next steps.
Specifically, what will McCammond and Condé Nast do to "uplift" our AAPI community? How will she bring attention to our plight and engender an enduring conversation about the struggles of Asians in this country? Will she use her influence to advocate against the surge in hate? If McCammond means it when she says, "the last thing I'd ever want to do is make anyone -- but especially our Asian brothers and sisters in particular -- feel more invisible," then she must commit to continually representing the pain and beauty of the Asian American experience in Teen Vogue's editorial content.
With the shadow of past allegations of workplace discrimination, the time is now for Condé Nast to step up and demonstrate zero tolerance for intolerance during this precarious moment of amplified hate against Asians.
Will Condé Nast and McCammond capitalize on this dark moment to send a powerful message about their stated commitment to inclusion?
We will be watching.
Racism is a virus. And we must come together to stop the spread of it and demonstrate that the Asian community's experiences with racism is no less worthy.