10:22 AM ET.
Alice Ronigk is a senior writer for ESPN whose assignments have taken her to six continents and led her to countless daring things. (Follow @alyroe on Twitter).
As the number of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the U.S. increases, snowboarder Chloe Kim, a first-generation Korean and Olympic gold medalist in halfpipe, told ESPN that recent attacks and hate messages on social media have taken a toll on her mental health.
On Wednesday night, Kim posted a screenshot on her Instagram post of a message she received moments before. You stupid Asian, —-, he read. Kiss my ass. In an Instagram story, Kim added: I get hundreds of these messages, and it breaks my heart that people think this kind of behavior is normal. Kim, now 20, says she has received similar messages since winning her first medal at the X Games in Aspen at age 13. Sometimes I feel helpless and scared, she wrote. It’s very hard for me.
In an interview with ESPN on Thursday night, Kim talked about his experiences with racism, his fears for his and his parents’ safety, and his decision to come out of the closet as an Asian American.
I was getting messages from people that I was part of the problem because I was quiet, Kim told ESPN. I am: Do you realize that I am also an Asian American and this concerns me? Many white people have told me that my silence makes them angry.
Kim said she hopes her Instagram post makes people aware of the widespread hate against Asian Americans and shows that she too faces discrimination on a daily basis. Her silence is not due to apathy, she says, but to fear. Just because I’m a professional athlete or won the Olympics doesn’t mean I’m immune from racism, Kim said. I receive hundreds of these messages every month. I see maybe 30 a day.
The abuse on social media began when Kim was 13, after she won her first medal, silver in the halfpipe, at the 2014 X Games in Aspen, Colorado. After the race, she posted a picture of her medal on Instagram, where she already had hundreds of thousands of followers. She began to describe with emotion what happened next.
People belittled my performance because I was Asian, Kim says. In my DMs, I was told to go back to China and stop taking medals from the white American girls on the team. I was so proud of my achievement, but instead I lay sobbing in bed next to my mother and asked her: Why are people so mad at me for being Asian?
Kim is fluent in Korean, but after that I didn’t speak it in public with my parents, she says. I was so embarrassed and hated being Asian. I learned to overcome that feeling, and now I’m so proud of it.
In the following years, as Kim became the most dominant woman in the sport, she continued to receive a steady stream of hate mail. She says she was even spit on in public. But she did not share these experiences with her friends or peers and kept much of it hidden from her family. Last year she noticed an increase in hostility and felt she could no longer remain silent.
I think it got worse when the inspection started, Kim said. Once I was trying to get into the elevator in my apartment and a woman yelled at me and said: No, you can’t come in here. Sometimes I feel like everyone hates me because I’m Asian.
Kim said she feared for her safety whenever she left her Los Angeles home, whether it was to attend the World Cup or go shopping.
I never go anywhere alone unless it’s for a quick meeting or I know there are people around, she says. I’ve got tasers, pepper spray, a knife. When I walk the dog or go to the grocery store, I have all three in my waist bag and my hand never lets go.
Kim also said she feared for her parents because many of the recent attacks on Asian Americans have targeted older men and women. Every time my parents walk out the door, I think I might never see them again, or I might get a call from the hospital saying they were attacked, Kim says. I’m scared all the time.
For part of the past year, Kim has turned off social media notifications and deleted Instagram from her phone. I used to love responding to my fans, but now I don’t look at my posts anymore, she says. Even if you get thousands of endorsements, the Hater will hit you the hardest.
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