Discrimination Towards the AAPI Community and Why It Matters
Asian-Americans have always walked a tight line between the “model minority” myth, which posits the Asian-American community as successful and inherently problem-free, as well as racial discrimination in the form of Asian exclusion laws and cultural stereotypes. Historically, Asian-Americans are blamed for illness, disease, and economic downturns ever since Chinese migrants came to build railroads since the 1800s. Immigration restrictions and concentration camp programs aimed at the Asian community are painful sticking points in American history.
The health challenges and economic anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year put all Americans under stress. However, Asian Americans have been confronted with an additional level of danger and tension in the form of racist harassment, discrimination, and violence. According to Stop AAPI Hate, from March 2020 to the end of February 2021, there have been at least 3,795 reported hate crimes targeting Asian Americans. Last month, Asian elders were the targets of a string of attacks. These alarming trends are suspected to be tied to COVID-19 bigotry, influenced by former president Donald Trump’s persistent comments calling the disease the “Kung Flu” or “China Virus” and blaming China for the pandemic. Then, last week, tensions escalated exponentially when a gunman in Atlanta killed eight people at spas, six of who were women of Asian descent. The gunman, who was turned in by his parents, insisted that the killings were not racially-motivated but instead due to a “sex addiction.” What’s even more infuriating is that a press conference the next day, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said that the gruesome murders were the result of a “really bad day” for the 21-year-old white suspect.
Criticism was swift and fierce because many were furious at what appeared to be supposed sympathy toward a man now charged with eight counts of murder. Soon after, two BuzzFeed News and the Daily Beast reported that Baker posted racist statements online himself. In April 2020, he shared an image of T-shirts inspired by the Corona beer label saying “COVID-19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.” In another post, Baker proclaimed “Love my shirt … Get yours while they last.” Also widely criticized was Baker’s decision to broadcast the suspect’s apparent motive, that he was a “sex addict," while law enforcement otherwise declined to say what might have motivated the attack, such as racism or misogyny.
What are the key takeaways from the extended tragedy of the pandemic, and these grisly murders? First, the discrimination and violence that Asian people, particulary women, suffer are real and need to be acknowledged. Targeting these Asian spas, in particular, is inextricably linked to racist fetishes that society has towards Asian women. Jokes about Asian women being mail-order brides, taking advantage of Western men, and racial epithets like “me love you long time” are persistent and evasive. After the acknowledgment, action needs to follow decisively and swiftly to address how these stereotypes harm the Asian-American community. If you hear a joke or some discriminatory comment about the Asian community, stand up and explain why it’s wrong. Making sure that Asian people have adequate resources and support at work, at home, and in the community is crucial to breaking patterns of discrimination and hate.
Ibis Valdes is a consultant on diversity, inclusion, empowerment, and leadership. She now helps clients to press pause and refresh their brand, culture, and productivity through DEI strategy. Schedule your free assessment today by clicking here. Connect with Ibis!