1955 Capital’s Andrew Chung on the Atlanta shootings, anti-Asian racism, and a very hard phone call to his father

March 23, 2021, 8:23 PM UTC

Today, we turn this space over to Andrew Chung, a first-generation Asian American and founder and managing partner of 1955 Capital. He shares his experience with racism, his anguish over the murders in Atlanta, and issues a very specific call to action. 

The American Dream at Risk

The days after the shootings in Atlanta have been difficult for the Asian American community, but racial discrimination and violence is unfortunately nothing new and has been pervasive throughout my lifetime. I am the only son of immigrant parents who escaped from China to the U.S. more than 50 years ago to pursue the American Dream, uneducated, not speaking a word of English, with not a penny to their names. A generation later, I am grateful every day that this great nation afforded me the opportunity to study mathematics at Harvard and become one of the rare individuals of Asian descent to become a general partner at a top global venture capital firm.

Recently, I called my father Jack and pleaded with him to stay home and not go to the Chinese restaurant in suburban Philadelphia that he opened decades ago, due to my fear of both him getting COVID and his physical safety with the rise of Asian hate crimes — each due to failures in our nation’s leadership. Almost a year ago, during the early days of the pandemic, my septuagenarian father dutifully wore a mask in a local pharmacy and was harassed by a patron who yelled, “Nobody’s wearing a mask in here, you’re scaring everyone with this whole China Virus!” Dad was scared for his life and took off his mask, putting his health at risk. Around that time, our nation’s failure to handle the pandemic temporarily shut down their restaurant and put my folks out of work for the first time in the half century since they reached U.S. shores. Although I had tried to compel them off and on for the last 15 years to retire and enjoy a comfortable life, they never gave up on their craft or their customers — until COVID. A difficult year of coping with the loss of their Dream ended with a beacon of hope after getting their first vaccine shots and a return to the restaurant. 

Then, six Asian women were shot in Atlanta by an individual who the local sheriff said did so because he had “a really bad day.” The law enforcement official in charge of the investigation is one who a year ago promoted T-shirts that said, “Covid 19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.” If you hadn’t seen or heard of this, I’m not surprised. Another cowardly act that will be forgotten. I’m worried that no movement (with a capital “M”) will ensue from this terrible act, which is only the most recent in a series of attacks on Asian Americans, young and old. According to NYPD data, for example, Asian hate crimes are up 1,900% from a year ago. In any other discipline or demographic, these types of growth metrics would shock and awe. In this case, it’s just another stat.

I fear the reason for this may be that even I have gotten numb to the persistent anti-Asian sentiment and general discrimination towards race, gender, and sexual orientation that I have witnessed and experienced my entire life. My parents and I were the target of racial slurs and hurtful incidents (the burning of my textbooks one year comes to mind) throughout my childhood. When I was the President of the Chinese Students Association at Harvard, I led students in speaking out against anti-Asian racial bias in the media, business world, and government. But I was disappointed in the inability for the various Asian subgroups to come together in a unified front to speak up for the cause. So I sought to fight the battle from the inside out and took the chip off my shoulder. I was proud to become an investor at Lightspeed Ventures and general partner at Khosla Ventures, two of the preeminent venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, represent our country on presidential trade missions to the Far East, sit on the Dean’s Cabinet of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and attend the Met Gala. I believed that if the populace could see more Asians in positions of leadership and influence, perceptions could change over time. Progress could be made.

But I was reminded after the shooting in Atlanta that it’s not enough.

I now invest in revolutionary technologies and people that have an opportunity to change the world for the better — to help a new generation achieve their American Dream and ensure others, like my parents, preserve theirs. But I had to call my parents and ask them to give up their cherished freedoms, because our collective voice has been too soft to drive the change that would keep them safe. 

Asian Americans and other minorities have taken steps backward because of failed leadership, and people need to express their anguish over events like those in Atlanta. Donate to causes like StopAAPIHate that help fight against Asian and other hate crimes that attack our country’s diversity. Take a stand against bigotry and encourage your organizations to do the same. Write to your representatives and ask them to protect their Asian American constituents. Use your influence to inspire others to positive and productive action. Build companies of lasting significance. Run for office. Express discontentment that there is no Asian American cabinet member for the first time in decades.

It’s time to speak up and take collective action. I hope more of you will do the same. #StopAsianHate #StopAAPIHate

Andrew Chung
Founder and Managing Partner, 1955 Capital

On point

Enjoy your racist home values Yes, like everything else — prom, swimming, square dancing, tomatoes — home values are tethered to intentionally exclusive policies and practices. In this piece by Emory law professor Dorothy A. Brown, she explores the data around neighborhood demographics and the preferences of white homebuyers, who flock to all or mostly-white neighborhoods. Their preferences contribute to the Black wealth gap. “Research has shown that once more than 10 percent of your neighbors are Black, the value of your home declines,” she explains, citing research that shows even in hypothetical studies, and adjusting for class, the presence of Black families made a neighborhood less appealing to white buyers. The problem, traced back to redlining days, means that the homes of Black families who choose to live in diverse neighborhoods fails to appreciate in value. The tradeoffs are profound.
New York Times

Evanston, Ill. launches a $10 million experiment in reparations The proposal directly addresses past housing discrimination in the Chicago suburb, and would employ housing grants as tools to remedy past discrimination. Details are still being sorted but grants will be set aside for residents who can show that they or their ancestors were victims of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices in the Evanston area. “It is the start,” Robin Rue Simmons, an alderman and co-creator of the program tells the New York Times. “It is the reckoning. We’re really proud as a city to be leading the nation toward repair and justice.”
New York Times

Sesame Street welcomes a couple of Black Muppets and more candid talk about race It’s part of a long tradition of inclusive, age-appropriate programming, which is part of the reason to click through to read more. The history will make you proud — and realize that it’s more than possible. That said, the decision to fully embrace the racial identity and experience of two Black characters, the father-and-son duo of Wes and Elijah, is a new development. “After last summer with the racial unrest that happened and the murder of George Floyd, we collectively as an organization decided that the only way that we could go about dismantling racism was by being bold and explicit,” Kay Wilson Stallings, the executive vice president of creative and production for Sesame Workshop, tells Time.

Considering equity in education as we re-open As colleges and universities begin to think about re-opening this fall, equity considerations are now front and center. “We shouldn’t be talking about opening up normal, we should be talking about opening up better,” Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy at the Education Trust, tells Inside Higher Ed. The pandemic has created a deep drop in enrollment for traditional underrepresented students. “I do have concerns around what is a classroom going to look like, especially for low-income students and students of color. If you had underrepresentation in the classrooms before, is it going to be worse?” says Del Pilar
Inside Higher Ed

raceAhead is edited by David Z.Morris

On background

How to deal with the really problematic people in your life This is a fascinating review of a book I confess to not have read (yet), that combines organizational psychology, negotiation science, conflict resolution and counterterrorism expertise to help anyone manage the thorniest, recurring conflicts in your life. Optimal Outcomes, a new book by organizational psychologist Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, offers eight practices that if mastered sound promising. You’ll learn what an “optimal outcome” is, and how rational problem solving won’t help you get there, and how to draw a “conflict” map, which helps identify key players and the forces that pressure them. But the concept of “shadow values,” based on the Jung’s concept of the shadow self, the parts of our psyche that we suppress. But if you want to understand the “weird” behavior of others, understanding their unstated values is a good place to start.

Where are the people of color in academia? It’s worth the subscription to the Harvard Educational Review, a quarterly publication, for their Winter 2017 issue alone. Every article focuses on race or identity in some focused way, but if you only have time for one, start with this one from academics Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo, who is famous for the concept of “white fragility”. They rigorously examine the hiring practices of predominantly white universities, to discover why their dreams for diversity are never fulfilled. “We argue that through a range of discursive moves, hiring committees protect rather than unsettle Whiteness. In so doing, they actively close the gates against racial diversity,” they write. Culture fit – we’re looking at you.
Harvard Educational Review

Reclaiming the term “redneck?”The original term was an inclusive one, dating back to 1921 when black and white coal miners in West Virginia rose up against exploitative mine owners and protested brutal and unsafe working conditions. The march, precipitated by a series of strikes, turned into a war, quite literally, becoming one of the bloodiest labor conflicts in U.S. history. Mine operators had long sought to sow racial discord by importing lower paid black miners to break strikes, but the United Mine Workers union fought against segregation and for pay equity. The miners faced a paid army of mercenaries, including private planes that dropped bombs on the workers. Miners wore red bandanas to identify each other while fighting.
The Guardian


Mood board

Elgin Baylor (center, levitating) in a 1962 college All-Star game. Baylor would go on to become an 11-time NBA All-Star, then General Manager of the L.A. Clippers from 1986 to 2009. Baylor passed away Monday at age 86.

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