Life On The Margins

Coronavirus Racism

Episode Summary

As the coronavirus spread from China to become a global pandemic, threats of violence and racial slurs aimed at persons of Asian descent continue to rise in the United States. In episode 4 of Life on the Margins, Kert Lin recounts his encounter and the emotional impact on him after becoming the target of a racist incident at a south Seattle Home Depot. He is still upset with the driver of a pick-up truck who cut him off in the parking lot, yelled an anti-Asian racial slur and told him to “go back to China”. Even more disturbing for Lin was the lack of response to the incident when he reported it to Home Depot management and Seattle Police. We also hear from Matt Chan; Seattle media producer, creator of the reality show Hoarders, and a Chinatown-International District community activist, who delivers his opinion about the Kert Lin incident and its aftermath.

Episode Notes

0:01 - Announcing Special Weekend Edition

0:24 - Episode Introduction

1:15 - Processing Together

7:12 - Conversation with Kert Lin

27:54 - Community Opinion by Matt Chan

30:36 - Episode Recap


Kert Lin  is an Seattle Public  School elementary teacher and a new father.  

Matt Chan  knows that storytelling begins with the audience – an idea that has driven his 45 years of award winning success in the television industry. Chan has worked in every facet of the industry, from operating television stations to running national television series. In 1998 he started his last business Screaming Flea Productions and over 14 years grew it to national prominence. His work created hits like A&E’s HOARDERS, and landed him a spot as one of the very few people of color on the Hollywood Reporter’s Top 50 Reality Power Producers list. His newest passion is to give back to the community, training and educating new generations of citizen journalists and storytellers for the new world of media..   ____________________________________________________________

Produced In Partnership With :

Town Hall Seattle  (

The South Seattle Emerald  (


Executive Producer + Host  // Marcus Harrison Green

Executive Producer + Host // Enrique Cerna

Executive Producer + Host // Jini Palmer

Additional Production Support Provided By // Hans Anderson & JEFFSCOTTSHAW

Music Provided By // Draze "The Hood Ain't The Same" //

Episode Transcription

- Hi everyone. This is Marcus Harrison Green, and I just wanted to give you a quick heads up about today's episode of Life on the Margins. We recorded before widespread protests broke out across the country, demanding justice for George Floyd and expressing anger over police brutality. We'll be addressing this in a new episode later this week, but for now we have a show about how racism affects communities of color already disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now here's the show.


- As I drove past the vehicle that was in the turn lane, somebody yelled out, "Hey, chink, open your eyes, go back to China!"


- Kert Lin was a target of coronavirus racism. It is the ugly side of the COVID-19 pandemic, where people of Asian descent are increasingly the focus of ignorance and racial hatred. Coming up, Kert Lin's story and the emotional impact. Plus,


- Being a victim of a racist attack is the loneliest place in the world. It's primal and frightening.


- Commentary from community activists, Matt Chan. This is Life on the Margins. ♪ I was born in the Central District ♪ ♪ Raised in the South team ♪ ♪ I'm a home grown kid ♪ ♪ Yep 206 living ♪ ♪ Used to play flyers up ♪ ♪ When I lived up on Union ♪ ♪ Pushing out to hook us ♪ ♪ And eventually-- ♪


- Welcome to Life on the Margins. I'm at Enrique Cerna.


- I'm Jini Palmer.


- And I'm Marcus Harrison Green. This is obviously a tough show to do today. Not only do we have an incident that happened with Kert, we have a lot of other incidents that have happened here locally, where Asian-Americans have been accosted in the street and sped at been the subject of a lot of racist venom and vitriol nationally. We've had again, another African American man being killed by police officers. And this is just a lot. It is this pandemic of racism that continues amongst this pandemic of the Corona virus. And it's a lot to process. And I'm just glad to be here with both of you to be able to do that. And Enrique, how are you feeling about everything?


- Troubled. I know that you are feeling the same. I hear it in your voice. I sense it, and it's totally understandable. As an African American man, I know that, it's only one more thing. You can't run, you have to be careful if you're going to be stopped by police. You have to be concerned about a pandemic that is just, hitting your community so hard or all the communities of color. This is so hard to take at a time when we are losing so many people around the country to a virus. Of course, Jini for Asian Americans is it's almost like you have a target on your back.


- I mean, I can't get over kind of like racial ignorance, just the fact that like they would associate this virus just because of one's race, as opposed to, Hey, looking at the facts of this person's living in my neighborhood. They are literally here. It doesn't mean that they've been to China or wherever the origins are. And the truth being that it's now everywhere. So even whether or not they are from China or they've had that experience to me, it's like, it just never ceases to like, just disappoint me. I mean, it's definitely, it definitely is painful and--


- It makes it so it's almost hard to really respond or to have a conversation like with my friends. I have many Asian American friends and African American friends. And unfortunately I think the conversation tends to be, Oh, it happened again. It happened again. And why does this continue to happen? Why cannot we get a grip on this? Why can't we understand that it wasn't a person of Asian descent that was born in the U.S that started the coronavirus pandemic. Be real about that.


- But I do hope that like this sort of media coverage is something that will help people recognize that these sorts of acts like they're unacceptable. I'm hoping that that's what this podcast and other coverage helps to do, right? Because these acts keep happening. But if we can keep covering and I'm in showing that this is, should be ashamed and unacceptable behavior, hopefully we can move forward with some sort of positivity.


- I'm certainly hopeful of that, but at the same time, it's like these things continue to happen and happen again. And I wonder if this is just desensitizing people to it, right? You have the New York times, I believe Sunday, a one, they ran, you know, all those names of people who had died, for instance, the COVID-19 virus. And one of the takeaways from that from some people was that, this is going to desensitize people to this pandemic because there are so many. And I keep being hopeful that with all of these things happen, that people just won't continue to be desensitized to these acts of racism and realize that this is systemic. This is structural. This reveals what has always gone on. And this pandemic was supposed to be this great equalizer to our society. And we're all supposed to coming together. And we see, again, it is so hard to have any type of equality when your society isn't based on equality from the get go.


- One of the things that I had actually been thinking of even before all of this happened, is that the need for, I think our public health entities to declare that racism is a public health crisis. It has happened in of all places, the largest County in Ohio Franklin County. They recently declared that so. It has happened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh. I'm actually quite surprised it hasn't happened here in King County, Martin Luther King County. That action hasn't been taken and frankly, I think I'll be maybe suggesting that to a few, council members or even the public health officials.


- Yeah. And I actually did just recently speak to a public health official at King County on that very subject on, if they were considering potentially also having a ordinance stating that racism was a public health threat. And the response that I've gotten was that they had already had a race and social justice, equity lens and an ordinance that had passed 10 years ago. And that while they certainly would be receptive to naming it explicitly as a public health threat. They've been essentially working as if it is, for the last 10 years. Now, the result of that is the results that is, is what we're seeing right now. So that's open to judgment on whether that has been effective or not.


- We turn now to Kert Lin story. Kert is an American of Chinese descent. Still he was the target recently of racial slurs and taunting in an incident he'll never forget. Kert Lin, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it very much.


- Yeah. Thank you for having me.


- Well, let's go back to the day that you decided to stop at Home Depot. You're pulling into the parking lot and a white pickup truck cuts you off. And then why don't you pick it up from there?


- Yeah, so they cut me off. They were going to make a left. I was going to go straight and I just kind of went about my business. And as I drove past the vehicle that was in the turn lane, somebody yelled out, "Hey, chink, open your eyes, go back to China." And I obviously was caught off guard by that. I continued just to drive into the Home Depot to do my thing. And he also pulled in through another entrance and it was just the strangest thing to me because this person had the signage of his company plastered on this giant truck with a phone number. And so I drove to the parking lot and wanting to take pictures of the gentleman that yelled out the racist remarks, as well as the company information, just to report it and have that information available. And so when I did that, I went to go take the picture while I was still in my car. He repeated the taunts and the racial slurs. And that's when the security guards came because this was literally right in front of the main entrance. And there was an employee of Home Depot there that was monitoring the number of customers that were entering the store. So this happened in front of many staff, like many people are doing home improvement. And so there, there was a park, the parking lot was full and the security guards came and I told them that I was going to be calling the police. And unfortunately they... For whatever reason, they said "Don't bother". And I really don't think it was in the sense that they were trying to hide anything or anything like that. Both security guards were people of color as well. And unfortunately it seemed to be that they just didn't have faith that anything would happen out of it. And they were just like, "Hey man, I'm sorry." Like, yeah, that's crazy. And I was upset and I said, I was calling the police. They said, you know what, they're going to take like three hours to come, if they come at all. It was just kind of a tough situation all around.


- So they're basically saying, let it go. They're telling you to let it go.


- Yeah, so for whatever reason, right? That was kind of the message. I obviously called the police. The three gentlemen got out of their car and continued to kind of taunt and goad me to get out of my car. You know, they're saying, "get out, get out." "You're not going to do anything." And then they were just allowed into the store. They did their shopping and then they left. As they left, they were again, waving and smiling at me and the security officers there were saying, "You're not going to do anything about it. The police aren't going to do anything about it." Laughing, smiling. And then off they went.


- So were you fearful? Were you afraid of them?


- I was I was not afraid because I truly felt like there were just so many people there that it would have been hard for me, I hope, it would have been hard for me to be physically attacked. And the security guards were there. I also stayed in my car. I was trying to be smart about the situation. Yeah.


- Well Kert you're probably being generous in calling these people, gentlemen.


- I think I am, yeah.


- That being said, could you talk a little bit more about, the reaction with the police. And I know that they... You were essentially very cavalier, about how they responded to the situation.


- Yeah, it was more confusing to me than anything because Officer Jones arrived maybe about 20 minutes after I called. He had asked what happened. I told him the story and he asked, did I feel like I was in immediate danger? And again, I said, no, I was in my car, could have driven away at any moment. He asked if there were any physical threats. I said, they were telling me to get out of my car. But, in terms of actually like saying like, "I'm going to hit you." There was nothing of that sort. And so Officer Jones concluded that the three racists were using their first amendment rights. And regardless of how terrible the things I thought they were saying, or however much I disagreed with their message, it was protected under First Amendment rights. And there would be no further action taken. And so I conceded at that. I said, okay, I can follow your logic, that there may not have been a legal response necessary. And so I asked as a community organization, what is your response? And Officer Jones truly seemed confused by the question. Like, I was confused by his confusion. He looked at me--


- The case that he didn't, that he said that there was no protocols in terms of handling incidents like this.


- Yeah, yeah. So, the first, I think concern was really, he just didn't even consider himself a community organization or a community member. Cause when I said, "What's your community response?" He just said, there is no legal action to be taken. Again, I prided on him and I said, Hey, no, I mean, like, as a department in this city, you have a community presence given the anti-Asian sentiment in our country, I'm surprised there's no protocol or memo or anything that the department is recognizing this, this is going on. And he said, "Nope, nothing, no protocol." And yeah, I feel like I rephrased the question maybe three or four times. And every time he said he was not aware of anything.


- And did you like previous to this, did you know about the Seattle police, Chief Carmen Best, called to ask people to report bias incidents before you spoke with him?


- I actually did not. I did not know that Chief Best had put out that video with Lori Matsukawa. I knew was the information that I was receiving through friends or like the this international district Facebook group that I had joined people... Unfortunately that was a group that went from 'how to support the community' and 'how to support local businesses' to sharing about the atrocities that are happening to the local businesses and the vandalism and the burglaries. And so through those kind of stories, we were encouraged to keep calling the police, keep calling the police. And so that was kind of through more community members. And so when I called, that's why I was so surprised, I was like, how did everyone get the idea to keep reporting these things when there's really no police protocol? And that's what this officer had told me.


- The officer was he a person of color?


- No, he was a white male officer. I would say, late 20s, maybe early 30s.


- Did he seemed concerned about the incident or was it more that, You know, we can't really do anything about it. I don't have any suspects here, so just let it go.


- It was essentially that. He did not seem to be concerned at all about the situation. There didn't seem to be a whole lot of empathy. I thought maybe his empathy was, Hey, whether you think it's terrible or however you, or I feel about it, it's First Amendment rights.


- I mean, one of my questions is just that, we all know, like the literal acts of prejudice affect us greatly in the moment. But it's the trauma and the residual kind of psychological effects after the incident that continue to cause harm. Has this affected you in many more ways or how has it affected you?


- Gosh, that's... It has stuck with me and it's terrifying because this is not something that I'm used to feeling. And I think I've been very blessed to say that. And I know that so many other people in my community have felt this, have gone through this and, and much worse. Yeah, it's something that I'm, I guess I'm learning to have to adjust to. So my son was born on Friday and we just got home last night. And today we went to the doctor to do a little checkup and there's just some lasting home improvement things that I needed. I went to Home Depot for a reason. So anyway, on my way home, we were going to stop by Lowe's and my wife was in the car and my son. And I sorry. I decided just to go home to drop them off first, because I didn't want them to be waiting in the car in the parking lot, just like on their own, in the back seat. And it's scary to have to think that way, but it's also becoming maybe more necessary. And especially going from being, like a young man to a father. Those things kind of shift very dramatically. And yeah, it's just unfortunate. It's a little bit scary to think that, you know something like that could happen. Something like that has happened and it's been happening, in our city, in Seattle, at Golden Gardens, Downtown. These places that are huge recreational areas and it's just happening. And you know it scares me because I don't know what to do. What can be done. It's like, Hey, it's nice that, Chief Best is putting out these PSAs and the literature and the directives, but then ultimately, these things are happening. And I can only speak with the one officer I had the experience with, but it didn't seem to be very important. So it's, yeah, it's scary to have that feeling and to think that this is a a city I was born and raised in. I had always felt more or less, very comfortable with the community around me. You know, I grew up in the Central District. And like the school I went to, there were, I think it was probably the most languages spoken in any school in the country. And just having this rich, rich resource of community and people, it's just shocking that this can still happen in a city like Seattle that is seen by so many as being so progressive and so diverse and yet I fear for my safety, going to my neighborhood hardware store.


- I'm sorry that you have to feel that way. I'm sorry that this has happened. Congratulations on becoming a father. I'm also, I'm quite amazed that you're here speaking with us and able to do so, so eloquently, probably on little sleep, but I know that you talk to Chief Best later, she called you. Since then the department has said that they are investigating through their bias incident unit. The office of police accountability is also investigating. The community has rallied after you posted about this on Facebook and others have rallied to support you as well. Good things, but has any of the contact you had with the chief, has that been helpful to you? Tell us about that conversation.


- So she left a voicemail just expressing her apologies and that this officer did not handle the situation well, but I had a follow up conversation with Assistant Chief Diaz. He had called me the following day. I really do think that we had a, a fairly fruitful conversation or I hope we did, which really was just about my mentality of speaking to reporters and telling my story. And it was really just about shedding light on the things that are happening in our community and with so many community members who do not have English language proficiency and or they're new to the country, or they don't feel confident in their English abilities. It's really fearful for them to report these things. I'm a well-educated person. I was born and raised here. I have a master's degree, I'm a teacher. I know how these systems work. And yet the result I got was lacking and was against protocol. It was lie. It was all of these things. And so I just can't imagine the, well, I guess that is what I was imagining. I work in a nearby school and again, these are the things that our community, the systematic racism that our community goes through every day.


- By the way, it's a school that you, you attended at one time, right?


- Yeah. I'm a kindergarten teacher in the classroom that I was at kindergarten or in. And--


- Same classroom?


- Same classroom. I was able to recover the classroom there as well. So that's with me. So anyway, it was... So there's just social services that are lacking. There are educational services that are lacking. And something that I had to do this year is to translate in Mandarin, which I don't speak very well to families that also don't speak Mandarin, but they understand some and speak some, but it's not their native dialect of Chinese. And so, It's just this daily struggle of like, "Hey, here's your, here's your kid's homework." "Hey, here's how to log in." "Hey, here's, here's how to get a computer." "Here's maybe some resources for Wifi." And this is the daily struggle of people in the community. And I think after that experience, I think I reached kind of a breaking point. I always thought of myself as someone who was right, trying to better the community, trying to, speak up for people who didn't have their voices or advocate for people who needed more. And yet when it was as black and white as the police officer doing... just breaking protocol, I think it just became a much bigger issue for me. And so, I think in a very roundabout way, moving forward. I feel a lot more convicted to really speak up when things are not what they are supposed to be. And the parallels that I see right from the police, their messages, "Hey, we're all about protecting the Asian American community." "We're all about reporting these things," and yet they don't happen. And there's just too many parallels that I've experienced day after day as being a teacher in Seattle, public schools of 'we're all about equity,' 'we're going to support you.' And yet we are not even given resources to communicate with our families.


- Okay. You talked so much about support and what that looks like with so many communities of color, especially to here in Seattle with these high profile incidents that have happened of bigotry and hatred. What does coming together look like for communities of color? How can we help support each other?


- I think it's about using our voices. I think it's about speaking up. And I think it's about speaking up for the community. And I feel like all of the outlets or interviews, or even the friends and family that I've been speaking to about this, it's been about the community. Because like I said, our community, it's the international district. It's the Central District, right. It's First Hill. It's Capitol Hill. It's Beacon Hill. It's--


- South Seattle throw us in there as well.


- Right. It is like truly, yeah, South Seattle. It's truly just like, we truly are this melting pot. And right... I know cliche as that sounds, but right. In my classroom of 21 students, there's seven different languages. And one of those seven is not Spanish. It's just so rich and so diverse. And it's just so beautiful. And we are not treated as something that is beautiful. And part of what I'm trying to do is just, Hey, look at us, look at how strong we are. Look at how resourceful we are. Look at the struggles that we do every day. And yet we are still here every day. And I just think about how, where some of these kids can be if they are given the resources and the opportunities. And that's part of the breaking point, right? As being a elementary school teacher is you see them and they're young and they're wide-eyed, and there's just so much potential. And they show it. And then the system just, it does what it does. It ignores them, it treats them as outcasts. It sees our kids as just angry. It sees our kids is just lashing out, but they don't see why they're angry. They don't see why they're lashing out. They don't see the mistreatment that occurs all the time. They don't see the mistreatment that these kids have to see happen to their families and their parents. And so that anger is something that I can definitely identify with. That frustration. And fortunately for me, I've had the resources of like mental health and counseling, to help me through these things that so many of our kids lack, right? And we're still as a public school fighting for a counselor. And again it's like, "Oh, well, you can fund it from your own building funds." And again, that's inequity because it's research has shown that our community, students of color just do not have those same opportunities in the same resources as others. And ultimately I'm sick of it.


- That was Kert Lin, a Seattle kindergarten teacher and a new father. He was recently the target of anti-Asian slurs and taunting at a Seattle Home Depot. We thank Kert for taking the time to share his story with us. As noted in our interview with Kert Lin, many in the local Asian community stepped up to voice their outrage, concern, and support for Kert and the aftermath of the racist incidents he endured at Home Depot.


- Among them, Matt Chan. Chan is a Seattle area producer, the creator of the reality show "Hoarders" and an active voice in Seattle's Chinatown, international community.


- You recently painted commentary in a South Seattle Emerald and shares those thoughts with us now.


- What happened to Kert Lin shouldn't have happened to anyone. Kert was the target of a racist attack. Attacked by someone who's white privilege I'm sure, thought it was all in good fun. At 67, I know a few things about racism. Being a victim of a racist attack is the loneliest place in the world. It's primal and frightening. You're alone facing someone who hates you, just because the color of your skin. In that moment, you're forced to confront a toxic mix of rage, ignorance, and entitlement, where your only good choices, survival. A racial assault changes your life. And each incident after that holds its own unique horror. There were a number of players in Kert Lin's attack, the staff and management at Home Depot, bystanders who didn't intervene or help. But the most egregious was a Seattle police department. When officer Buckley D Jones shrugged off the incident with 'no crime was committed', it spoke volumes of the hollowness of Chief Best and Mayor Durkan's words, that acts of racial bias and hate will not be tolerated. That all incidents must be reported and would be acted upon. Officer Jones clearly didn't get the memo. No amount of PR or celebrity spokespeople would erase the disrespect Kert received from the SPD. Public displays of concern might make feel good about their city, but the harsh reality has never been clear for Seattle's non-white residents. 'You don't really matter', which brings me to another awful truth, that certain Asian Americans have their own racial privilege. They have a level of education, money, and influence, not afforded to many people of color. Yes, they worked hard to achieve their success, but they also never bore the brunt of systemic racism that other groups have endured. That privilege has gone in the era of Trump and COVID-19. The racial attack on Kert Lin at Home Depot was horrible, but some good has come out of it. The Asian American community has risen up to support Kert and renounced the actions of Home Depot and the SPD. This support has led to media coverage of the incident and is spreading the shame of it widely. So in this month, where we celebrate our Asian American heritage, let's not forget that we need this support, all marginalized groups as well, because United, we can change the system.


- To recap, this has really been an emotional episode, kind of Kert Lin sentiments, and how this incident has affected him. Not only in the moment, but the kind of residual, psychological, emotional effects, and being put on guard in regards to his own movements throughout the world and how other people react to him. It's so sad. And this is just one example of as Marcus mentioned earlier, all of the incidents that are happening right now. It brings me to like my past and thinking like, Oh, there's really been very many times in my past that I have seen or experienced or felt like Asian solidarity. I'm from Utah. So it's just, there's a really low Asian population. And I think before, it's almost like you see another Asian in you're threatened almost because that's your identity. They're taking away something from you or something or challenging it in some way. And it took me growing up, being more confident in who I was and myself and going to other areas of the world where I felt like there's a denser Asian population where you start to feel okay, like, I'm good. Like we're good. We can find solidarity in like our own community and like, I can feel proud of who I am and it took a lot of time, but as I see other people's reactions, like, I feel like that's kind of the silver lining here is that like, hopefully other Asian Americans, wherever you're from can come to be, more proud of, of who we are and that we're in it together.


- Are you any more concerned about your safety now?


- Yeah, I would say I am. I would say just even talking to Kert, hearing from his perspective and the effects of what's happened and his emotional response, and just makes me think about my mom and my community. And as I step out into the world, I'm trying to be more mindful of what's going on around me. And I'm trying to think about what I would do if something happened and how I would respond. I mean, I do tend to be a positive person. So I still walk down the street and look people in the eyes and think that people are gonna treat me like a human being.


- Marcus, how about you?


- Yeah. I mean, I'll say, I join all of you in saying that this is definitely a tough time and this was probably the toughest episode to produce. But at the same time, to piggyback on what Jini was saying, it is a time also to really be about solidarity with other communities of color. This is a time to affirm the fact that we all have a right to exist without being attacked for race. We all have a right to exist and not have our lives in ended prematurely. We all have a right to equal access to healthcare. And at the end of the day, we have to continue to fight for that. Today, tomorrow, beyond this pandemic, forever. I mean, it's just been a constant fight and we need to re-up quite frankly.


- Yeah. To the people that made the remarks, the racial insults to Kert, I would say he is an American, he's an American. And maybe more so than you. When you speak out and try to insult someone like that, that means that you, you are ignorant and you are insensitive. And you need to think about that because that is just not acceptable for any American to treat another American that way. Actually, it's not acceptable to treat any human being that way. When things like this happen, it makes me think a lot about my own parents and what they had to deal with as immigrants coming to this country from Mexico and establishing a life. But also encouraging us to remember that, they became Americans and I was born here and I'm no less than anyone else.


- Yeah. And just to touch back on that really quick. It's not like you're saying it's not even being American. It's the humanity. Like we are all human and we deserve the right to just live and live, like be respected in the life that we live. We only have one. Like it's so painful to think that other people don't recognize them. Life on the margins is a co production of the South Seattle, Emerald and Town Hall, Seattle. I'm Jini Palmer.


- I'm Marcus Harrison Green. Our music is courtesy of Seattle Artist, Draze and our producers are Jeff Shaw and Hans Anderson.


- And I'm in Enrique Cerna. If you have a topic you want us to cover, or you want to give us some feedback, call and leave a message for us at two O six, six O six zero two two two. Stay safe, be well, we'll talk more later. ♪ I was born with Central District ♪ ♪ Raised in the South team ♪ ♪ I'm a home grown kid ♪ ♪ Yep 206 living ♪ ♪ Used to play fliers up. ♪ ♪ When I lived up on Union ♪ ♪ Pushing out to lock us ♪ ♪ And eventually the ♪ ♪ Didn't have much, but thanks for, ♪ ♪ All we was giving, ♪ ♪ It was all hood until we even see ♪ ♪ And the blocks went naked and gentrification came ♪