In the aftermath of the recent increase in hate crimes and bias incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, many communities are showing their support in various ways, from social media activism to mutual aid efforts.
Efforts like these are starting to heighten awareness surrounding racism against Asian Americans, which can be ingrained and subtle — ranging from racially insensitive incidents to physical attacks, experts say. And it’s been fueled over the past year by pandemic-related rhetoric such as referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” reports have shown.
Initiatives including educational resources, donation sites, in-person volunteering and reading lists all aim to help prevent further violence. Last year from March to December, there were 2,800 anti-Asian American hate incidents, according to the online self-reporting tool Stop AAPI Hate. There were 69 incidents that included racist language in addition to a physical incident. The site doesn't report these to police.
Experts share further resources below on how to be anti-racist and support the Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community.
Educate yourself on the fact racism against AAPIs isn’t new
Racism against AAPIs has a long and painful history, dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from entering the United States. Scholars say this law scapegoated Chinese workers on the West Coast who were often blamed for declining wages and job opportunities. A century later, many Americans continued to blame Asian Americans for their economic woes, this time in the auto industry, as Japanese manufacturers made their way into the U.S. market. In 1982, Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American was murdered in Detroit by two white men — one a Chrylser worker and another a recently laid-off Chrysler worker — who, according to a witness, used obscene language while blaming him for losing his job.
-- “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” is a collection of essays published in 2020 about the nuances of the Asian American experience
-- “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White” examines stereotypes, such as the perpetual foreigner and the model minority myth, and tackles issues including affirmative action, immigration and interracial marriage
--Self Evident: Asian American’s Stories is a podcast that aims to challenge assumptions about Asian Americans
--PBS’ Asian Americans is a five-part documentary series on the history of Asians in America.
--#AsianAmCovidStories is a YouTube documentary series exploring Asian Americans’ experiences and challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recognize why racism against Asian Americans might not be easy to see
Many members of the AAPI community have long said they feel the need to “prove” they experience racism, and social media has been somewhat of a game changer in terms of being able to offer “receipts.” Though experts say the fact the community even feels compelled to do so points to a larger problem.
“Asians have had a harder time proving racism in a large part because, in general, people still don’t know the history and struggles of Asian Americans,” Stewart Kwoh, president emeritus of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, said previously. “That’s the overwhelming problem we have to confront as a society.”
Sharing racist incidents on social media helps dispel the myth that Asian Americans don’t experience violent crime or racism, said Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director at the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, told NBC Asian America.
“The enormous force of the model minority myth — that you’re all doing well, that your issues are not the same as others who are really suffering — is what we’re fighting against,” she said.
Don’t dilute language when talking about hate crimes and racism, but be accurate
Factual information is essential to furthering conversations about racism in a productive way, said Russell M. Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. He points to specific suggestions surrounding terminology.
“‘Xenophobia’ assumes we’re foreigners, so call it ‘racism’,” Jeung said. “And don’t call it ‘anti-Asian sentiment’ because sentiment is all warm and fuzzy. Call it ‘Asian hate,’ because that’s what it is.”
Be clear on the difference between a hate or a bias incident and a hate crime –- that a bias incident might involve an act like a slur and a hate crime is a physical act of violence that shows racial motivation. Public mislabeling of incidents can have an impact on a jury and lead to a greater sentence for a suspect. The distinction between these terms is essential, experts say.
“Hate crimes are really narrowly defined as crimes for which you can be arrested with a racial bias there,” Jeung said. “It’s not an indicator of the level and extent of racism occurring.”
Experts say that the conversation around anti-Asian American hate must include incidents besides hate crimes and that just because an act is not categorized as such doesn’t diminish its significance.
-- Learn what makes a hate crime from the U.S. Department of Justice.
-- Learn about coded language from the National Education Association's EdJustice.
Seek out mutual aid efforts
Promoting safety doesn’t necessarily mean calling for more policing, experts say. Instead, safety can “look like neighbors helping each other out,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of civil rights nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “It’s about creating that community where people feel like they are better protected and that they are not alone.”
In places like Oakland, California, Yang said community members are supporting their local Asian American elders by helping them run errands, walking them to the grocery store, or buying food for those who are too afraid to go outside. Aside from donations and volunteers, many nonprofits are also seeking help with political lobbying and letter writing.
“It’s important for us to always be building coalition, working in solidarity so that it’s not only when crises happen that we’re reaching out to an organization for support,” said Michelle Kim, author of The Wake Up and CEO of Awaken, a company that offers diversity and inclusion workshops.
-- Oakland Chinatown Coalition brings together cultural organizations to advocate for neighborhood improvement projects and community engagement.
-- Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC develops projects, training, education and advocacy to advance civil and human rights for Asian Americans.
-- The Center for Asian Pacific American Women offers professional development programs for Asian women.
Recognize that the fight against anti-Asian racism needs to be inclusive
Although the current moment is focused on hate incidents and crimes as a result of language such as “China virus,” many Asian American subgroups have long been the targets of racism as well. Groups such as South Asian Americans and Southeast Asian Americans face other challenges and issues that are often hidden by the model minority myth, the belief that all Asian Americans are successful.
Support and seek resources from a broad range of AAPI advocacy groups, such as South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which focuses on public policy analysis, advocacy and community building; The National Federation fo Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), which develops young leaders, urges political participation and supports small businesses; the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), which promotes visibility and provides education and tools to tackle homophobia and racism; the Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF), a media and educational organization that promotes civic and political participation; and Empowered Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), which seeks to empower Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities through advocacy and research.
Donate if you have the means
Support groups like StopAAPIHate, which organized a tracking tool for hate incidents last year; The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, which helps provide affordable care, translated resources and cultural competency for professionals; Send Chinatown Love, which supports restaurants, many of which are immigrant-run and cash-only and so were rejected for government aid.
In addition, the Asian American advocacy group Goldhouse has compiled a comprehensive fundraising page on GoFundMe featuring local nonprofits by region, ways to help small businesses and social media toolkits.
If someone uses the phrase “China virus,” arm yourself with an argument against it
Experts have pointed out that it’s a sign of progress that we no longer name viruses after their country of origin.
"Just because certain terms have been used in the past doesn't make it appropriate now. We know that language evolves," Yang said in a past interview. "Certainly, there are terms that have been used in the past, whether in the health context or also elsewhere, that we all recognize have become inaccurate, anachronistic or inappropriate."
He pointed out that we no longer uphold the tradition of naming hurricanes only after women. From about 1953 to 1978, common female names were chosen for storms. Feminist activist Roxcy Bolton fought to end the practice as she and others saw the harmful rhetoric that resulted.
For AAPIs, acknowledge the fact you might have your own biases, as well
Before Asian Americans ask others to advocate for them, the community must do its own work on addressing biases -- one example being anti-Blackness, experts say.
“We have a responsibility to call out racism, whatever we see, not only when it happens to Asians,” Yang said.
When addressing loved ones who might hold racist misconceptions, he thinks it’s helpful to approach the subject from a place of care. “Don't approach it in a way where they will get defensive, because it's a learning process for them too,” he said.
Jeung said that when it comes to understanding racism, playing “oppression olympics” is both counterproductive and misleading.
“When we try to dismantle white supremacy, we're working in partnership with Black Lives Matter, but we are addressing a different aspect of racism,” Jeung said.
One way Asian Americans can call attention to racism without comparing it to anti-Blackness, Jeung said, is to “recognize that Asians are racialized differently” in the U.S., and “placed on an outsider-insider spectrum.”
“Sometimes we're insiders to America, we belong and should have white-adjacent or honorary rights,” he said. “But in times of war, times of pandemic, times of economic downturn, we're pushed. We can be deported, cut refugee resettlement and H1-B visas because we're outsiders.”
-- Resources for Asian Americans learning about anti-Blackness by Asians American Advancing Justice - AAJC.