The Pandemic Has Fueled a Surge in Anti-Asian Racism—Here’s How To Support the Community Right Now

Photo: Getty Images / 10'000 Hours
Last week, videos circulated on the internet of a 91-year-old Asian man being forcefully shoved to the ground in Oakland, California's Chinatown neighborhood. This is just one of the many incidences of violence and hate crimes committed against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the past week—violence that is finally getting the attention they deserve by the wider American public.

Sadly, anti-Asian racism is not a new issue, but one that has been exacerbated by the pandemic since its onset. When COVID-19's origins were linked to Wuhan, China, former President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to the virus as the "Chinese virus" and "kung flu"—racist epithets that were quickly adopted and repeated by his followers. Despite Trump's protests, these slurs very likely encouraged anti-Asian violence. A United Nations report found that there were over 1,800 racist attacks against Asian Americans in the United States over an eight-week period from March to May 2020.

Experts In This Article
  • Anne Saw, PhD, Anne Saw, PhD is an associate professor of clinical-community psychology at DePaul University in Chicago.
  • Russell M Jeung, PhD, Russell M Jeung, PhD is a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University.

Additionally, Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, says it received 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from 47 states and the District of Columbia between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2020. The data showed that Chinese people were the most targeted group, making up 40 percent of reported incidences, and women were attacked two and a half times more than men.

"Being perceived as not really belonging enables people to treat us badly, to tell us to go back home, to spit and cough on us, and to treat us in dehumanizing ways." —Russell M. Jeung, PhD

According to Russell M. Jeung, PhD, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, xenophobia and racism toward the Asian community often stem from Christian nationalism—the idea that the American state has been, and must continue to be defined by, Christianity. (The extremes of this ideology were on display at the January 6 siege on the Capitol.) "This ideology of Christian nationalism, that America should be a white Christian nation, really propels the animosity towards Asians," says Dr. Jeung, who also helps run Stop AAPI Hate. "Being perceived as not really belonging enables people to treat us badly, to tell us to go back home, to spit and cough on us, and to treat us in dehumanizing ways."

Additionally, scapegoating the Chinese community in particular for diseases and other social ills has been a part of American political playbooks since the mid-1800s. "During the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 [which temporarily halted Chinese immigration and prevented existing Chinese immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens], Chinese were seen as taking away jobs. The diseases of smallpox, malaria, and cholera were all blamed on the Chinese," Dr. Jeung explains. He says that these old racist tropes and patterns have re-emerged today in the form of violence thanks to the pandemic, citing reported cases where people have allegedly sprayed Asian people with Lysol. "They don't see us as being infected. They see us as the infection," he says.

These modern racist attacks have huge mental health effects on the larger AAPI community. "These incidents are categorized as traumatic incidents," says Anne Saw, PhD, associate professor of clinical-community psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. Based on her prior research, she says that anti-Asian discrimination tends to be a top stressor for many members of the community, on par with mental health and financial concerns.

These incidences have also hugely impacted the financial health of many Asian Americans—which are already strained due to the larger pandemic-induced economic downturn. "People began to avoid Asian businesses, Chinatown's nail salons, and that's led to business closures before quarantines and higher rates of joblessness among Asian Americans," says Dr. Jeung.

Despite all that has happened, there are ways for everyone to show up for the AAPI community during this time. Below, you will find ways you can support the AAPI community as well as mental health resources for those who have been impacted.

How you can support the AAPI community and tackle anti-Asian racism

1. Raise awareness of the issues

Social media continues to be a powerful tool for raising awareness of social justice issues—so be sure to read and share informational posts on this issue with your followers and personal network. Amanda Nguyễn, a civil rights activist and social entrepreneur, released a video that names the events that have occurred over the past week and calls on mainstream news outlets to cover the stories of anti-Asian racism. This Instagram post created by Eda Yu, an arts and culture writer, sums up some of the events that have happened while amplifying organizations to donate to support the AAPI community.

Another Instagram post was created by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network to amplify the ways in which you can show solidarity for the AAPI community. You can wear yellow or black and sign up to stay informed about a community-based response for safety and crime prevention efforts. In Oakland, for example, a community organizer named Jacob A put together a volunteer group to accompany elders on their walks for their safety. (To sign up, fill out this form.)

2. Report instances of anti-Asian violence and abuse

In response to the xenophobia and bigotry, the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University launched Stop AAPI Hate to track incidences of racism and discrimination in the United States. Reporting incidences of anti-Asian attacks and hate will help the organization collect data to inform educational resources and policies. You can make a report on their website in 12 different languages.

3. Donate to organizations supporting the AAPI community

There is a myriad of organizations and causes you can donate to support the health and well-being of the AAPI community, including:

  • Stop AAPI Hate: Support the data collection of incidences of racism and discrimination across the United States to inform policies.
  • Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN): This group is working to build power and resilience in the working-class Asian immigrant and refugee communities to stop big polluters from harming the community and the environment in which they live.
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus: The Law Caucus focuses on promoting and amplifying the housing, immigration, and civil rights of Asian Pacific Islander communities.
  • Chinese Progressive Association San Francisco: CPA is working to empower the low-income and working-class Chinese community in San Francisco.
  • Chinese Progressive Association New York: The New York branch of CPA spearheads citizenship application help, English courses, know-your-rights workshops, and neighborhood recovery to work towards social and economic justice for the Chinese and immigrant community in New York.
  • Filipino Cultural Center: The San Francisco-based group is dedicated to providing a safe space where Filipino families can access services, receive employment or immigrant support, and build a community.
  • Oakland Vietnamese Community Center: By donating, you can support the economic recovery of the Oakland Vietnamese community. The center distributes food weekly to the elderly, conduct community cleanups, and more.
  • Texas Chinese Community Center: The Chinese Community Center serves thousands of families in Texas and is the largest Asian-led social service agency in Texas. Their center provides legal, income tax, and food stamp application assistance.

4. Take bystander intervention training

In partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the group Hollaback is hosting three different virtual workshops in February and March. The first event is a bystander intervention workshop to learn about the basics of intervention. The second event is conflict de-escalation, and the third is specifically for Asian Americans experiencing anti-Asian harassment on how to reclaim space and practice resilience following an act of hate. To register for any of the events, you can sign up here.

5. Share (and utilize) mental health resources

As Dr. Saw stated earlier, anti-Asian racism and violence have taken a toll on the mental health of many members of the AAPI community. If you (or someone you know) is in need of affordable therapy services, check out the Asian Mental Health Collective, which aims to destigmatize mental health within the Asian community via accessible therapy. To facilitate your search for a therapist or mental health provider, visit the group's Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian American (APISAA) therapist directory where you can search for a provider by state. There's also the South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network (SAMHIN), a non-profit dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of the South Asian community in the U.S. It offers a mental health provider finder so that you can search for a mental health provider based on location, specialty, languages, and more.

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