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‘This Is A Human Issue.’ Daniel Dae Kim on Coming Together to Combat Bigotry

7 minute read

Last March, during the onset of the pandemic, actor and producer Daniel Dae Kim was diagnosed with COVID-19. During this time of uncertainty, when the public knew little about the virus, Kim documented his journey back to health on social media. He also used his platform to speak out against the xenophobic rhetoric and anti-Asian racism that were on the rise in the wake of the pandemic.

Now, a year later, Kim, a longtime advocate for diversity and representation, has become one of the most outspoken voices raising awareness of the surge in hate crimes against the Asian American community, using his platform to call for action and structural change. This week, following the shootings at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight dead, including six Asian women, Kim testified before Congress about the urgency of addressing anti-Asian hate. “There are several moments in the country’s history that chart its course indelibly for the future. For Asian Americans, that moment is now,” he said.

As part of this week’s TIME100 Talks episode, TIME spoke with Kim about unity in the face of bigotry and solutions to stopping racial violence.

TIME: The shootings in Atlanta have led to a renewed focus on how we can prevent such violence going forward. How do you hope our country responds to this moment?

Kim: Right now, in front of our Congress and the House Judiciary committee, there are two bills. One is the No Hate Act. And the other is a hate crimes bill that covers a number of items that would help the accurate reporting of these kinds of hate crimes. It’s important that we do everything we can to encourage people to give the accurate representation of the depth and breadth of the problem.

You wrote on Twitter that when people have the power to help but sit idly by, then their silence is complicity. What is the importance of other communities speaking up against Asian hate right now?

It’s crucial. Alone we are much weaker than if we are allied with others who care, not just about Asian Americans, but about the issue of hate and discrimination and bigotry in general. Now I wouldn’t deign to try and compare the Asian American experience to any other minorities’ experience in America, because each one is unique in their own ways. But what we do have in common is that we have all experienced bigotry. We have all experienced prejudice. What’s most important to understand is that this is a human issue. This is not just an Asian American one. The shooting in Atlanta was primarily women. It’s hate writ large.

In a recent TIME100 Talks conversation with Rise CEO Amanda Nguyen, she told me that “all justice is intertwined.” Why must we elevate women’s voices in particular as we work to combat intolerance?

You know, sometimes it takes an event like this for us to recognize whose voice has been silenced the longest. And one thing that I hope can come of the tragedy in Atlanta is that we can recognize the situation that these women specifically were in, but also women in general are in. It’s no coincidence that it’s the most vulnerable who are being attacked the most.

In response to a January incident in which an elderly man was pushed down in Oakland, California, you and actor Daniel Wu offered a reward for information on the assailant, a move that some critics suggested could further harm local communities of color. Has your perspective on the reward evolved at all? How does that conversation play into a larger one about the impact of intersectional coalitions speaking out together against hate?

I’ve learned a lot since the time that Daniel and I offered that reward, but we did it for two reasons. One was to bring attention to the subject and the other was to get information about the perpetrator of the crime. And I think we were successful in conjunction with a lot of other people like Amanda Nguyen, who has been very vocal on the subject and whom I consider an ally. We succeeded in raising awareness for the subject. At the same time, it is a very nuanced issue. I think in instances like this it’s very easy to focus on ways that we can divide one another and set each other at odds. But I think the best way to approach it is to really—I mean, it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true—be stronger together.

To go deeper into your question, I know issues of justice are complicated. What’s clear to me is that it takes a multi-pronged approach. It takes deterrence, it takes empowering community leaders, it takes understanding the nature of policing in these communities, and it takes education. It’s all of the above that is required. Not one single one of these is going to solve the issue on its own.

To that point, what are the best ways that people can support the Asian American community right now?

Being active in seeking news of this kind is really important. It still amazes me how many people have never heard of this issue or don’t believe it is an issue. And it’s just about paying attention to the world around you. I read a tweet the other day from a friend of mine in high school who says, “I never thought that you had experienced racism in high school, but as a white man, I guess I never really thought about it.” And I think that’s really important too, not just for non-Asian people toward Asian people, but for all of us to each other. To try to understand what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes, I think is really the key. I think this is really an issue where we talk about empowering ourselves, protecting ourselves and creating a better situation for all of us, not just the Asian American community.

Last September, you testified on a congressional panel on diversity in media, calling out anti-Asian bias in the wake of the pandemic. Can you tell us a little more about the role that diversity in media can play in preventing prejudice?

All of these things are interconnected. The fact that you have representation on TV means that you can have an understanding of someone who doesn’t necessarily look like you and that understanding can bring acceptance and empathy. And so that’s why it’s important to have a positive but fully fleshed out portrayals of Asian Americans in the media.

There were historic Oscar nominations for the Asian American community this year. What would you want to see moving forward in Hollywood in regards to representation?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I look forward to the day where the fact that an Asian American or African American or Latinx person or someone who is in the LGBTQ community wins an Oscar and it’s not even news. Or let me put it another way: that it’s news because of their achievement and not because of who they are. And that will speak to a time when there will be enough representation that it will no longer be an issue. That’s the day I look forward to because everything up until then is a stopgap measure. What we want is representation that reflects everyone in America.

Looking ahead to the future, what gives you hope?

I think you just pointed it out. These Oscar nominations give me hope. As tragic as these circumstances have been over the past year, I do believe that we’re in the middle of an inflection point where perhaps this will be the start of a movement for Asian Americans where we are valued in a way that we’ve never been in the past. They say pressure makes diamonds, and I’m hoping that we’re in a situation where a diamond can come of this. This is not the first time this has happened to Asian Americans throughout history, but I sure hope it’s the last.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com