An Open Letter to My Younger Self
a letter by Yi-Ann Li
Dear younger self,
You were one of the biggest bookworms in your class, and yet in 2020 you will sit at home feeling more uneducated and ashamed than ever. You will watch as the world swirls in unrest around you, on the precipice of a social revolution.
You’ve read every book on your bookshelf at home, but oh dear, are you still ignorant about so many issues. Because your bookshelf does not hold enough books about the history of African Americans and their never-ending fight for the same privileges you are unknowingly indulging in every second of your seventeen years of life. You love watching movies, but oh dear, are you still ignorant, because you have not seen all the documentaries about the injustice they face.
You did so well in that spelling bee when you were a child but you still don’t know the true definition of privilege. You don’t know that privilege is not drowning in panic and dread when you see lights flashing in the rearview mirror, not fearing for your life every time you walk out the front door, not fearing your parents may not come home from work one day, not fearing a needless bullet to the head or knee in the neck. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Tamir Rice. George Floyd. They felt all those things, while you do not. You don’t know that privilege is never feeling like you couldn’t breathe through the invisible smog of racism and injustice.
You will be forced to reckon with your own pride as you are faced with the years of your unknown complicity. You’ve heard over and over again that history is written by the winners, but never questioned once that maybe the words in your textbook didn’t reveal it all. And you will realize that for every second you told yourself it wasn’t your business, or you didn’t want conflict, or it’s not your place to say anything--you allowed history to be written by the oppressors, again. For every second you remained silent, you were the empty space that allowed a finger to pull a trigger; for every second you remained silent, you were the the click of the handcuff locks on the wrong person; for every second you remained silent you were the gravity that helped pull Derek Chauvin’s knee into George Floyd’s neck.
But you will learn. And you will realize that privilege means you never once worried about those things before because your skin is not black--that being another minority individual does not ever excuse you from staying silent.
And you will start educating yourself. You’ll sign petitions and email representatives and take every resource shared on Instagram to heart. You’ll tell yourself that your privilege can be used for good--for fighting alongside your Black brothers and sisters, because they were never meant to do it alone. You’ll realize that you’ll never fully understand what it’s like to be Black, but know it is your duty to start washing away the deeply internalized racism and start walking alongside them. You’ll sit down at dinner with your parents and have the uncomfortable conversations about why people are saying “Black Lives Matter,” not “All Lives Matter.” And you’ll sit there and explain that when someone is locked in a burning room for too long, and their quiet requests were met with silence, they have no choice but to start getting loud. You’ll sit there and tell your family, and yourself, that the knee Colin Kaepernick took was in hopes that the knee in George Floyd’s neck needn’t have happened. But it did.
And you’ll realize that the Great Wall constructed between Asians and Black people and other minorities has blinded us from truly seeing and loving one another; that it will take every yellow, black, brown, white hand on Earth to take down all those bricks. And that until then, the “with liberty and justice for all” you pledge every day means nothing. That the “equal protection of the laws” scrawled in our Constitution is nothing but empty promises.
You could have been the biggest bookworm in the world, read every book on every bookshelf, won every spelling bee--but until you swallow your pride and take your yellow hands and join them with the black and brown and white and every color of the human race, the book of humanity on Earth will be washed with blood.
Your future self. Humbled, ashamed, and still learning
- Yi-Ann Li