This image represents that silence is complicity as people pass each other by (accidentally fulfilling asian stereotypes).


The Cost Of Silence

Vincent Lam

7 mins

As an Asian American, I’ve been raised to believe that silence is golden. If that’s true, silence has an even greater cost than gold. It can cost people’s lives.

Silence is Complicity

Silence and inaction in the face of any injustice (racial, sexual, age, gender, etc.) is an act of complicity. When we don’t speak up or step in when injustice happens, we’re just as bad as the offender.

The act of writing down what I’m sharing goes against everything I’ve been raised to believe and what is expected of me as an Asian American—to mind my own business and keep my head down.

My mom is from Hong Kong. My dad is from mainland China. At an early age, my dad heard that America was the land of opportunity where he could make a better life for himself and his family. He left China for Hong Kong when he was 16. He learned to become a chef, received his working visa, and immigrated to New York with only a few hundred dollars to his name in a foreign land where he did not speak the language. He brought my mom over to America, and they had my brother and me here in the States. By all accounts, my dad achieved the American dream.

Growing up in the Midwest, I kept silent about a lot of things. I quickly recognized how (1) not many people looked like me, and (2) I was expected to uphold the Asian stereotypes that we are kung-fu math geniuses who don’t cause trouble. I am neither good at math nor trained in martial arts.

However, I did fulfill one of the Asian stereotypes: I stayed silent.

My parents moved us out of the inner city school district a few years later into a “good” school district to give us a better shot at education. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the new neighborhood we had moved into was predominantly affluent white. As my parents were busy working long 12 hour days six days a week, I was desperate to fit in. I did not look or dress like my new classmates. As I learned to fit in and make friends by assimilating to white culture, I also learned that my Chinese culture (like the dumplings I packed for lunch that everyone thought smelled bad) was not as openly accepted.

So, I concealed my culture and stayed silent.

As I was the only Asian in a group of white friends, white co-workers, and white neighbors, it’s easy to think that I am not racist since everyone around me looks different. I spent two decades of my life blinded to my own prejudices. I had learned to take on the identity of being white because I was treated better, gained more favor, and received better opportunities.

For this, I stayed silent.

Here we are in 2021. 2020 named COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu” while Asian Americans continue to be targets of violent hate crimes committed by fellow Americans looking for a scapegoat. And while the entire world’s attention focused on a white officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck, mine was on the man who looked like me, a Hmong-American, who stood by for eight minutes and 46 seconds. If I remain silent on these issues like that officer was for over eight minutes, I am also guilty of contributing to the racial tensions that are still happening today.

My silence is complicity, so I can no longer stay silent.

Complicity is a double-edged sword. Nobody actually wins. As an Asian American, my complicity is what has created the model minority myth. We have a perception that we don’t cause trouble, and we don’t take sides. If we keep our heads down and follow the rules, then we are doing our part, and good fortune comes our way. This actually doesn’t empower or help us. It instead has been used as a tool to downplay the systemic racism against other minorities (“Why can’t you people be good, hard-working minorities like them? They don’t complain.”)

Complicity has not made Asian Americans “equal.” From the Chinese Exclusion Act (the first law in the United States that barred immigration solely based on race) to the hate crimes being committed against Asian Americans today, this country has had a long history of racism against us that shows little sign of slowing down.

Complicity goes beyond race. In a work setting, if a co-worker does something unethical, it is our responsibility to speak up. If any harm is happening to a child, it is our responsibility to stop it. The idea that things are none of our business is a false narrative. Our silence, shrugging our shoulders, and turning our backs is why there are so much division and injustice in our country.

The good news is that we’re in a time where advancements in technology (personal video cameras at our fingertips) have encouraged more and more people to take action. 2020 opened my eyes and many others to the injustices that are happening unchallenged and unchecked. I’m encouraged that I have other Asian American brothers and sisters who have also used their voices to advocate for those who are oppressed.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about the final judgment. He talks about how He will gather all the nations, all people, and separate the sheep from the goats when he returns. The sheep will be at his right hand. They are the ones who fed, clothed, and cared for those that are oppressed and in need. They are called righteous and will inherit the kingdom. To his left will be the goats who stayed silent, turned their back, and did not show compassion to their brothers and sisters. They will be sent away to eternal punishment.

Complicity and injustices are not political or social problems. They are spiritual problems.

Ephesians 6:12 says that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Complicity is a tool that Satan has and is using to divide us.

The antidote? Love. We throw around the word love like we change underwear in our culture. I love Marvel movies. I love Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip ice cream. No wonder we have a hard time actually receiving and believing someone when they say “I love you.”

Here’s what the Bible has to say about love: “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)

Love is not a noun. It is a verb. Love is not passive. It comes with action. Love is speaking up—whatever the cost.

The next time you see your brother or sister in need or facing injustice, step in. Speak up. Yeah, it will cost you your comfort. Maybe even your reputation. But I promise you (well, even better—Jesus promises you) that He will reward you with far more than what it costs.

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Discussion Questions

  1. What stands out to you most about this article? Why that?

  2. What made you uncomfortable as you read? What inspired you? What else did you feel?

  3. Where do you encounter injustice in your daily life? How could you be a voice to change it? What would it cost if you tried? Forward this article to a friend. Tell them your plan, and ask them to help hold you to it.

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Vincent Lam
Meet the author

Vincent Lam

husband. father. amateur woodworker. cycling enthusiast. minivan driver.

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