Many friends and colleagues reached out to express solidarity and support in lieu of the recent hate crimes against Asians in Atlanta. While deeply appreciative, I struggled to find the words.

The truth is, I’m not surprised. In some ways, I’ve been expecting this my whole life. Fear has been a constant companion for me as long as I can remember. Not the heart-racing kind, but the kind you’ve internalized so deeply it’s like breathing. 

I don’t even know how old I was when I learned to avoid the park at night, to walk while holding keys between my fingers as a self-protective measure, or to look straight ahead and ignore the occasional jeers and insults. When I got to college, all of us women received a whistle as part of our orientation packet. What did I actually think was going to happen to me? I don’t know, but vulnerability—not the empowering Brene Brown kind—was how I was taught to move through the world. And it’s not something I’m even aware of. It’s second nature because of my nature. 

But when the pandemic first emerged, with talk that it had started in China, the fear became the heart-racing kind. And I was grateful for the mask mandate, which protected me from COVID-19 on multiple levels. 

Before I leave home for my morning jog, I put on my baseball cap and pull it all the way down. I then put on my mask and pull it all the way up. You can barely see my face, and that’s how I want it. I can’t really breathe, but at least it’s on my own terms. 

I do all this to disguise myself so you won’t know that I’m Asian. 

On the one hand, these measures feel like the rational and sensible thing to do. Because to be Asian today, when there have been ~3,800 reported hate crimes in the last year alone, is scary. When Asian women are the majority of those targeted, you might disguise yourself if you were me too.

On the other hand, it feels wholly irrational. Why should I be scared? What did I do? Why am I afraid to run free in my neighborhood, my country? Why should anyone feel that way?

But whether I want to accept it or not, some of us don’t feel so free after all. Hate is irrational, and I don’t want to dignify it, but hate is real, and I need to recognize it. 

Someone on TV yesterday said, “You don’t fight racism with racism; you fight racism with solidarity.”

After a few days now, I have found the words for my friends and colleagues who reached out to express support: thank you for sending messages I didn’t think I needed. I feel safer because you have. I didn’t want to actively think about this. It’s easier to remain invisible, to stay silent, but your words made me find my own, and you called me to use my voice. And I realize there’s an “us,” not just a “me” in this. Solidarity and empathy will be the way we all get through this together.