The scourge of 'casual racism'

Rally attendants bow their heads and close their eyes for a moment of silence during Saturday’s rally at Reaney Park in Pullman.

PULLMAN — Around 330 people gathered at Reaney Park here Saturday to show support for the “Stop AAPI Hate on the Palouse” denouncing racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“Racism is a sickness of the heart,” said the Rev. Steve Dublinski, who opened the rally with prayer for victims of racism and their perpetrators. “Bring an end to all acts of violence and hatred,” he said, and “change their lives.”

People in the large crowd Saturday wore masks and tried to maintain social distancing. On Friday, the Whitman County Public Health Department issued an emergency order limiting outdoor public gatherings to no more than 10 people.

The organizers of the rally, however, said the Pullman police had agreed not to interfere with the event in regard to their First Amendment right to free speech.

Although Pullman is more culturally diverse than most communities in the region, several speakers testified that racism — ranging from rude comments to menacing words and actions — persists.

Yong Chae Rhee said he fears for his young daughters in this racist climate and recounted recent well-publicized acts of racism against Asians around the country. In some of these instances, Rhee said, Asian elders were reluctant to speak up against their assailants and publicly offered forgiveness toward them.

“Asian elders are proud — maybe too proud,” said Rhee, who is an associate professor at Washington State University’s College of Education. “They are embarrassed and they are afraid.”

Rhee, along with Jiemei Lin, organized Saturday’s event, which included testimonials, music, poetry and the Pledge of Allegiance and culminated in a march downtown, with many people carrying signs calling for an end to fear and racism.

Rhee pleaded with the crowd, especially educators, to be aware of what he termed “casual racism,” that Asians endure every day — slurs about their looks, their personal habits and their background.

People say: “ ‘You don’t belong here. Go back to your country,’ as if we’re forever foreigners,” said Rhee, who has lived in the U.S. for 35 years.

Soyon Chun, who is from Korea but has lived in Pullman for about 12 years, has experienced such racist comments first-hand.

“When I came here in 2011, I went to the Walmart,” she said. “I was holding my baby, she was 1, and an old lady came to me and she told me to ‘go back to your country, monkey.’ She yelled at me.”

Chun said she has even witnessed her daughter being shunned by certain people at her primary school and other children of non-white races segregated from the other children. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she and her family mostly stay home.

“Because we are so afraid,” she said. “We don’t want to be a target.”

Scott Driscoll, of Singapore, is a graduate student at WSU. He has not personally experienced racism in Pullman but said he worries about his friends and family scattered throughout the country and the world who have been victims of racism and intimidation.

“If WSU and Pullman are a microcosm of America as a whole,” Driscoll said, “I can see things happening and nobody reports it.”

Duane and Janet DeTemple were two of the several non-Asian people who attended Saturday’s rally. Duane carried a sign reading: “Protect, Respect, Support AAPI.”

Janet said she has tutored several foreign women whose spouses worked at WSU and heard stories about things they’ve suffered.

“About how landlords exploit foreign students, in terms of cleaning fees, etc.,” Janet said. “So I know that this (racism) exists.”

“I think all people deserve respect,” Duane said. “My daughter is in Alaska and very interested in indigenous people, so that’s been very helpful about knowing the history of racism and how to be an anti-racist.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

Recommended for you