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Asian Americans are least likely to report hate incidents, new research shows

The reluctance to report could have to do with fear of retaliation as well as a concern over whether justice will be served, one researcher said.
People gather for a march to express solidarity for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities on March 20, 2021, in New York following the mass shooting in Atlanta.
Marchers in New York express solidarity with Asian American and Pacific Islanders on March 20 after the mass shootings at Atlanta-area spas.David Dee Delgado / Getty Images file

A new report highlights how prevalent the underreporting of hate incidents is in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

The survey, released Tuesday by AAPI Data, a policy and research nonprofit group, showed that Asian Americans have experienced hate incidents at a significantly higher percentage than the general population, but are also among the least likely to say they are “very comfortable” reporting hate crimes to authorities.

“What our data show is that upwards of 2 million AAPIs have experienced these hate incidents since Covid-19 started,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, the group’s founder who helped lead the study, told NBC Asian America. “But a very small fraction of them have reported to community hotlines and an even smaller proportion, at least what we know, have been established by law enforcement authorities as hate crimes.”

Researchers examined responses from more than 16,000 people of all major races who participated in the online survey at the end of March. They found that so far this year, roughly 1 in 10 Asian Americans had experienced hate crimes or hate incidents. In comparison, 6 percent of the general population had this year.

In 2020, 12 percent of Asian Americans and 10 percent of Pacific Islanders experienced hate incidents, while the national average was 8 percent.

In general, over a quarter of Asian Americans and a similar percentage of Pacific Islanders reported having experienced hate incidents at some point in their lives. But when asked how comfortable they would be reporting a hate crime to law enforcement authorities, 30 percent of Asian Americans and 36 percent of Pacific Islanders responded that they were “very comfortable.”

But other groups, including Black and Latino Americans, reported higher rates, at 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively. White respondents had the highest percentage for being comfortable with reporting to law enforcement, at 54 percent.

Ramakrishnan pointed out that the reluctance to report could have to do with fear of retaliation as well as a concern over whether justice will be served. A New York City principal reflected many of these findings, telling NBC Asian American this year that many of her students, who are from immigrant families living in low-income neighborhoods, indicated that they fear retaliation if they report racist incidents.

She added that because police often don't provide translators or help in navigating the complex criminal justice system, many in the heavily immigrant population distrust law enforcement, or doubt their effectiveness.

"When you live in the tenement and you report somebody, they can come back and the police won't be there for you," said the principal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

Ramakrishanan also said that many AAPIs could opt against reporting these incidents to avoid bringing unwanted attention to themselves or their family members. D.J. Ida, executive director of the nonprofit National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, similarly explained last year that when it comes to hate incidents and attacks, Asian Americans may feel pressure to gloss over or ignore the problem to avoid burdening other family members, given what they had to endure to make it in the U.S.

“From a psychological standpoint, sometimes we don't want to talk about the problems because, and I see this in younger people who were immigrants or children of immigrants, their parents had worked so hard for them. They don't want to burden their parents,” Ida said. “Because it's a sense of gratitude and it's very, very powerful.”

Ramakrishnan added that even though more information about these attacks is getting disseminated, there continues to be a lack of awareness in the community as well, which may contribute to underreporting.

“Even though we spread this information far and wide, people may not be aware about different hotlines that you can contact,” he said.

Researchers also looked at what other racial groups have been experiencing during the pandemic and beyond. They found that Asian Americans confront similar levels of hate incidents compared to other minorities. About 27 percent of them reported experiencing verbal or physical abuse or property damage due to their ethnicity. Latinos reported the same rate, but Black Americans reported a higher share at 34 percent.

“The kinds of stereotypes and the kinds of discrimination that black people face is different, and in some cases more severe. When you're talking about housing discrimination, as well as discrimination by police, it's much higher for black people than it is for Asians,” Ramakrishnan said. “But I think when it comes to these hate incidents, it seems that there's a greater similarity in the frequency of hate incidents, even though the exact nature of those hate incidents might vary.”

Ramakrishnan acknowledged that Asian Americans seemed under-indexed for hate crimes and incidents prior to the pandemic but the rate has since accelerated. He suspects that attacks could increase as the U.S. moves toward opening the economy up.

“It seems like there has been an increase in hate incidents involving Asian Americans. Part of it has been when everyone's been sheltering in place. There's been less exposure so we might actually see even greater increases in hate incidents involving not only Asian Americans but others," he said.

Though many have pointed out that the Trump administration’s “China virus” rhetoric likely contributed to an environment where hate is accepted if not welcomed, the persistence of such attacks shows there’s a longstanding issue that the U.S. must confront, Ramakrishnan said.

“In terms of in the last two decades, 9/11 was a critical factor in increasing the market share for hate, if you will, and mainstreaming hate and white nationalism,” he said, adding that the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first Black president led to "a dramatic increase in the proportion of people that joined hate groups, and also the rise of racial resentment in American society that continued through Trump's presidency.”

And this confluence of white nationalism, xenophobia and nativism, in addition to the rise of misinformation and disinformation, Ramakrishnan said, will need a multifaceted approach to mitigate. He said monitoring hate groups and giving adequate resources to communities of color “so that their more complex narratives are known, that people don't have stereotypical views of who they are,” will all prove important.

“It's just going to take a lot for that to wind down,” he said. “Just because Trump is gone does not mean that the forces that are pulling us apart, and the forces of white nationalism, have gone away.”