Stop the silence: Our words shape our world, and your voice matters

Shundrawn Thomas speaks out in support of our Asian American and Pacific Islander colleagues and friends

The fallout from the global pandemic has illuminated and exacerbated certain pervasive societal ills. Here in the U.S., it has repeatedly laid bare the pain of racial injustice and bias. A troubling example is a spike in verbal and physical violence against Asian Americans Pacific Islanders. During the past year, these assaults have increased in number and severity. 

While the recent trend is of grave concern, we must wrestle with an inconvenient truth: racism and xenophobia are endemic in the broader American culture. Moreover, racially motivated violence is a salient part of our past and present that demands both acknowledgement and affirmative action. 

I am compelled to personally address this issue because these disturbing acts of violence touch us all. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke rightly when he proclaimed, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Likewise, violence perpetrated against any group or member of our shared community is a threat to the health and welfare of our entire community.

Therefore, we cannot – we must not – remain silent.

As I set out to give voice to my thoughts and feelings on recent events, I sought counsel from a friend whose family immigrated to the U.S. from China. Tommy is a global citizen, and his friend group is very ethnically diverse. Like me, Tommy grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He said that the combination of being Asian and poor meant that he was picked on constantly by people from various ethnic groups. He said he simply got used to it. It just became part of his lived experience.

Tommy says that many Asians he knows suffered similar plights internalising the associated anger and fear. And like so many who endure discrimination, they suffer silently. He observed that people outside of these communities often fail to appreciate how their words, borne out of biases and stereotypes, contribute to the current cultural climate. Tommy is a remarkably vulnerable leader who uses his influence to bring diverse communities together. He’s chosen not to remain silent.

In speaking expressly to our Asian and Pacific Islander partners living inside and outside the U.S., I want you to know that as colleagues and community members, your concerns matter. 

While our life experiences may differ, these violent incidents resonate with me in a personal way. I know what it means to be discriminated against simply because of my race and ethnicity. I know what it means to feel unsafe and to be made to feel unsafe in a setting due to prejudice or racial profiling. I have felt the anguish that results from a family member or friend being victimised in a racially motivated assault. And I, too, have emotional scars as a result of acts of hate and violence. Nevertheless, my resolve and faith in the human community remain intact because I am also the beneficiary of trusting relationships with people of wonderfully diverse beliefs, backgrounds and experiences. 

I believe we each have valuable perspective to share with the world. Therefore, I refuse to remain silent.

While words alone cannot remediate systemic inequities or eradicate racism, words have power. Words have the power to help and the power to heal. Therefore, I offer my words as a proxy for our many partners around the globe who stand in solidarity with those most impacted by recent events. I condemn these reprehensible acts of violence. I also recognize that these events are part of a broader epidemic. One in which disempowered groups are discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, religion and any number of identifying qualities. Again, a threat to any group is a threat to all groups. Therefore, I stand against injustice in all forms and stand with any persons who are marginalised. 

Our words shape our world, and your voice matters. I encourage each of you to help shape a more equitable and just world. And, above all, I implore you: don’t remain silent.


Shundrawn A. Thomas

Shundrawn A. Thomas is President of the global asset management business, Northern Trust Asset Management, and a member of the executive management group of a leading financial services corporation. He is the author of Discover Joy in WorkTransforming Your Occupation into Your Vocation.
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