“Tell us about yourself.” I’ve rehearsed my answer over and over again: “I’m Riley, a junior at Johns Hopkins University. I’m studying Psychology and have minors in Integrated Marketing Communications and Leadership Studies.” But recently, my elevator pitch seems to be missing a critical piece of my identity — my race.
I’ve never given much thought to my racial identity. I was raised in a small town and attended a private school that were both predominantly white. By the age of 10, I learned to shrug off the random mocking eye tugs and discriminatory remarks to “go back where I came from,” or that “I’ll never belong here.” I handled my insecurities with jokes involving fake accents and nail salon imitations, so my peers would laugh with me. Still, I was labeled a “Twinkie” because I was “yellow on the outside, but white on the inside.” I’ve grown thick skin, and when former President Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu,” I brushed it off with a “whatever, I’m Korean, anyway.”
Then the headlines started to read: “Asian man stabbed in back in Chinatown,” “83-year-old Asian American woman was spit on, punched in the nose, and knocked unconscious in an unprovoked attack,” “8 Dead in Atlanta Spa Shootings, With Fears of Anti-Asian Bias.” Stop AAPI Hate has received over 3,700 reports of Anti-Asian harassment since the pandemic began.
I haven’t slept since the night of the Atlanta shootings. I don’t feel safe anymore. Every time I walk into a public place, the voice in my head tells me, “I’m next.” It feels as if every city has been affected by this national epidemic of anti-Asian violence. I’m no longer capable of staying silent when the people of my community are being assaulted and murdered.
But what can I even do? I’ve supported minority-owned businesses and spread viral infographics, but it doesn’t feel like enough. In the midst of figuring this all out, I’ve been involved in creating a campaign with my peers in the Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communication class. We hope to raise awareness and educate others about targeted violence and terrorism, which hate crimes fall under.
While many people may be familiar with the term terrorism, it has not always been explicitly tied to targeted violence. In 2019 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) developed a strategic framework to intertwine both concepts and acknowledge bias-motivated crimes. In this framework, the DHS defines targeted violence as, “any incident of violence that implicates homeland security and/or DHS activities in which a known or knowable attacker selects a particular target prior to the violent attack.”
It’s a known fact that misinformation leads to acts of targeted violence and terrorism. Our campaign sought to break that link by creating the myBIAS Quiz. The quiz assesses users’ susceptibility to misinformation and recommends resources to start reversing any misguided inclinations. By checking your internal bias, you are taking action in the fight against misinformation. While initially for a competition for class, the recent chain of anti-Asian hate crimes has shown that it’s necessary for this campaign to expand far past this semester.
Our motto at Hopkins is “Veritas vos liberabit,” or “The truth shall set you free.” We are at the forefront of groundbreaking research. As researchers and truth-seekers, we must continuously seek knowledge and facts and question our own complacency. Buying from Asian-owned businesses and posting viral infographics isn’t enough. It’s important, now more than ever, for people to check their bias. We need to curb misinformation in our community and create a safer space for people like me and other minorities on our campus.
Riley Difatta is an Asian American junior from Detroit, Mich. studying Psychology, Integrated Marketing Communications and Leadership Studies.