“How do I grapple with my close friend not being as upset about the shootings in Atlanta and rise in anti-Asian racism as I am? Am I crazy for being more upset than them? How am I supposed to feel about my friend for their apathy?”
— Anxious about Apathy
Dear Anxious about Apathy,
It might feel like the world is spinning out of control and you are alone on an island awash by an emotional tidal wave, but I am here to assure you that you are not crazy. What you are is human.
You are reacting to a devastating tragedy and the deplorable acts of violence towards innocent, vulnerable people. Your friend’s apathy might have you questioning your own sanity, but your response is completely normal and valid. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you, you are allowing yourself to feel and express these raw emotions.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, your friend’s indifference to anti-Asian racism is downright infuriating and triggering. Apathy minimizes what you and the Asian community as a whole are experiencing. Instead of moving on to deal and cope with these issues, you are stuck trying to justify the validity of your feelings.
This is the danger of invisibility that Asian Americans have dealt with throughout history. At the beginning of the pandemic, the community sounded the alarm about the rise in anti-Asian hate but was largely ignored. Shortly after the Atlanta shootings took place, the Georgia sheriff’s spokesman downplayed the role of racism by explaining that the shooter had a “really bad day”. The challenges and suffering of Asian Americans have gone unnoticed for too long, but the decades of repressed pain and loss are now starting to bubble over. The community is waking up, and like you, we know that we cannot afford to be invisible again.
Do not be discouraged by your friend’s apathy. Everyone is at a different stage of their anti-racist journey, so they might not be ready to meet you where you are. Hopefully there will come a time where your paths cross and you can finally have a constructive conversation.
If this is a friendship that is worthy of your pursuit, though, take the time to dissect why you are frustrated with your friend. Is there a lack of understanding of the context behind these current events? Do they understand but choose not to care? Is it because you feel like they are not listening or empathizing with your concerns? Identifying these pain points will guide your approach.
If there is a gap in knowledge on your friend’s part, then there needs to be more education on the topic. This doesn’t mean you have to be the one responsible for their learning process. However, you can steer them in the right direction by suggesting third-party resources on recognizing and combatting anti-Asian racism.
While you can offer guidance and enlightenment, know that you can’t always make someone care, however. Even close friends can have their unique differences in how they process and express emotions. For some, apathy is a coping mechanism. The surge in anti-Asian racism has opened up past scars and uncovered ugly parts of our history, society, and identity. It is also possible that your friend has faced discrimination or oppression in the past and are still dealing with the trauma. During these times, avoidance can feel like an easy way out of the darkness.
If you are feeling hurt by their lack of empathy, consider discussing your feelings in private with the friend — but only if you have the emotional capacity to do so. Explain why this issue is important to you and share your personal stories. The friend might be more inclined in a private setting to listen and open up.
Maintaining relationships and broaching difficult topics require a lot of courage and energy, so it is imperative that you have the support you need during this time. Your close friends are like your security blanket, but what happens when they no longer bring you comfort at a time of crisis? If you feel that you are constantly talking to a wall, it is time to seek elsewhere. If your friend isn’t receptive to race-related discussions, create your own pod of confidantes and allies who you trust and can lean on for support. While you may feel alone in your outrage right now, know that individuals like you exist within your current networks.
First, take a look at your circle of friends, classmates, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances. Look for individuals who have shared their personal experiences of racism or have voiced similar sentiments as you. Engage with those who have proactively checked in with you and expressed a willingness to listen. If there is an affinity group or Employee Resource Group at work for Asian or BIPOC employees, get involved and connect with others who can help you navigate these issues.
If your existing circles do not contain promising candidates, you can also search for online communities specifically created for Asians or BIPOCs where you can connect with like-minded individuals. Last but not least, you can reach out to an expert or professional in this field for advice.
In your search for a support group, seek out those who listen without judgement and share your commitment to anti-racism. You should feel safe and respected in their presence. If something doesn’t feel right, set your boundaries or take your exit.
Once you have rounded up your pod, try to keep your network as open as possible, so others may join when they are ready. You might even invite your apathetic friend to participate in the group conversations. While the responsibility is not on you to turn them into active allies, you can help them kick-start their journey to becoming anti-racist.
Friends may not agree on everything, but good friends challenge each other to learn and grow.
Talking and creating active allies is hard work, especially when you feel like you are doing the heavy-lifting. As such, please take care of your mental health, first and foremost. Converting your friend’s views should never come at the expense of your well-being.
Addressing and dismantling systemic racism is a long, laborious journey. Rest up whenever you can, because we need you — your voice and all your emotions.
Always here for you,
Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. You can also follow along for the latest column in our newsletter.
Featured photo credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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