Maybe you’ve seen the videos of Lee Wong, chairman of the board of trustees in West Chester Township, Ohio.
On March 23, the 69-year-old Asian American removed his coat and tie before standing up during an address at a council meeting.
For too long, Wong said, he had put up with fear, intimidation and insults because of the way he looked. He had been afraid to speak out. Not anymore.
“In the last few years, things are just getting worse and worse,” he said. “There are some ignorant people that will come up to me and say that I don’t look American or patriotic enough.”
“Here is my proof,” he added, as he lifted his shirt to expose a row of scars on his chest, remnants of his U.S. military service. “Now is this patriot enough?”
I think Grace Huang can relate. Huang, 46, is the president of Manheim, the auto auction giant.
Last fall, we named her one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry. As part of her profile, she was asked about books she had read of late. She named two: The Color of Law and White Fragility.
“For those who are nonwhite, a lot of us have had to go along to get along,” she said. “And after reading White Fragility, I realized that that has to stop for me personally.”
What she said then prompted me to reach out to hear more of her story following reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. The attacks have surged along with the coronavirus pandemic and the “China virus” rhetoric that has been attached to it.
The abuse is real, she said. And for her, it’s nothing new.
Taunts were a fact of life — “All the time. All the time. I mean, it was all the time” — for her growing up in North Carolina. Her parents, immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong by way of Canada, taught her to forge through and focus on representing her community well.
And forge she did. She rode a Wharton MBA to her current post, leading a $2.8 billion auction company.
Yet the scars from those insults haven’t faded. In fact, she says she feels as if she’s been transported back in time. Her school-age kids have been subjected to the same kind of comments that she endured decades ago.
But there’s a big difference. Her children aren’t staying under the radar, like she once did: “They’re speaking up and saying something when they do get harassed and saying that’s not appropriate.”
A supportive school helps on that front. Huang has her own support network, too. Not just friends of Asian descent in the Raleigh-Durham area, where she grew up. But also at Cox Automotive, the parent of Manheim, and its Cox Enterprises parent.
It comes in the form of employee resource groups, known as ERGs.
The first, for women, started six years ago. One for the LGBTQ community followed. Another is for veterans. There are 11 in all. Huang is the executive co-sponsor of the Lotus Asian-American Pacific Islander group.
Her former boss and predecessor at Manheim, Janet Barnard, oversees ERGs as Cox Automotive’s chief people officer. She says they have two main purposes.
They provide a place for people of common backgrounds and cultures to come together. They also provide a forum for all employees to listen and learn about cultural and topical issues — moderated discussions of police shootings, for example.
Another benefit is to help Cox itself grow. Members of a particular group might be asked to review marketing materials for cultural sensitivity.
It’s all part of a Cox mission to build a culture of respect and engagement.
That spirit was reflected in a separate diversity and inclusion workshop that Cox held for executives last summer. There, Barnard saw the power of Huang’s voice take root as she declared that staying silent was no longer the way to go.
It also stood out in her hosting of seven internal open-forum discussions on diversity starting last year. It was mirrored in a solidarity message about anti-Asian violence she co-authored in a March 19 memo to Cox employees.
And it was etched for the record in a listing of her name, along with those of hundreds of other business leaders, in a March 31 Wall Street Journal ad calling for an end to violence against Asian Americans.
Like Lee Wong, after years of silence, Grace Huang is speaking up.
As she said in a LinkedIn post this month: “Proud to stand with over 4000 Asian American business leaders and Allies in taking a stand against the hate, violence, and apathy directed at our community. … We’re just getting started.”