Battling Bias Complicity

How Yi Shun Lai advocates for marginalized voices.

Picture of Yi Shun Lai taken by Mimi Snow

Yi Shun Lai is a writer, editor, columnist for the Writer magazine, an MFA program instructor at Bay Path and Southern New Hampshire universities, and a volunteer with international disaster-relief organization ShelterBox. She’s also a fierce advocate for equality and the importance of hearing marginalized voices.  

Yi Shun writes, teaches, and speaks about communication issues, with a focus on diversity. A recent article on her website, TheGoodDirt.org, discusses an inadvertent but blatantly racist comment made to her in class. She explains how our internal biases make us complicit in perpetuating and legitimizing stereotypes and prejudices. Her “Meanifesto,” as she calls it, makes clear that we must call out inequity when we see it, even if it’s not considered “civil.”

Yi Shun explains, “In some parts of our society, ‘call-out culture’ has become very popular, but I don’t believe that’s the best way to help people see past their own boundaries. I will hew a lot less to these falsely imposed bounds of civility — only laughing weakly, say, when someone makes a racist comment, or letting a company off the hook when they make even a small gaffe — but I think we must keep an eye out for such things and their implications on our society and culture.

“Years ago, I argued with a family member over race and equity. Our tenuous relationship never recovered. Just before a family funeral, I told my husband I was nervous about seeing this family member. ‘You have to be civil,’ he said, and I about lost it. ‘No,’ I shot back, ‘he has to not be a bigot.’”

Yi Shun believes we must be brave enough to talk about race, even if the conversation might be uncomfortable and awkward.

“A colleague came to me sheepishly for some guidance about a diversity audit for a company I volunteer for. ‘I swear, I’m not coming to you just because you’re a person of color,’ she wrote. She’d heard that I do diversity and inclusion work, and she wanted to underscore that. I wanted to tell her (and did, later), ‘It’s okay! I have known for years I am Asian and you are white and that you might have questions about a thing you’re unfamiliar with.’

Read the rest of my article at Washington Independent Review of Books.

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