Ever since COVID-19 first spread nationwide, gearing up with a face mask was always a must any time I left my apartment in New York City, as it was for many others. But after being inundated with one too many stories of racist attacks, and even experiencing discrimination firsthand, I started also throwing on a pair of oversize sunglasses or a baseball cap, or both, to avoid being noticed as an Asian American woman. Masking my Asian-ness every time I stepped outside made me feel slightly safer against potential physical or verbal attacks. Even in NYC, a city often described as one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in the world, racism and xenophobia targeted against Asian Americans is rampant amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our community is being attacked and we are dying to be heard."
As an Asian American woman, I'm not alone in feeling fearful and anxious about being a potential victim of a racially fueled attack. A year ago, in March 2020, a group of community activists formed Stop AAPI Hate to bring awareness to these attacks and allow victims a safe space to report crimes. And according to a report released by the organization just yesterday, there have been nearly 3,800 documented cases of anti-Asian hate incidents nationwide over the last year, with women reporting 2.3 times more incidents than men, though Stop AAPI Hate cautions that its report only represents a fraction that actually occur. These types of incidents often go unreported, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey, and media coverage is even more rare.
For every viral video I watch of a blatant hate crime and every headline I read highlighting an all-too-familiar xenophobic attack, I think of my parents, grandparents, and friends that could have been in the same position, had they been unlucky. This sense of fear hit close to home on March 16, learning the news that eight people were killed in a series of violent shootings at spas in the Atlanta area. Six of the victims were Asian women, and while authorities claimed a "sexual addiction" may have fueled the shooter's attacks, it is clear what took place was an act of racial, sexual violence. The hate crime has sparked outrage and despair among the Asian American community, with members once again pleading to stop the hate, sharing our stories, and refusing to let these incidents go unnoticed the way so many of our stories have.
Last month, in early February, a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans, specifically the elderly, also reignited the conversation surrounding COVID-related racism. While bigotry toward APIA is sadly nothing new, it has certainly been amplified by the pandemic and rhetoric from the Trump administration. And despite President Joe Biden's recent, albeit rather minimal, efforts to confront this targeted racism and condemn xenophobic language, these racially motivated attacks show no signs of slowing down and, in fact, have arguably gotten worse.
As a response to the string of attacks against elderly Asian Americans in February, a powerful Instagram video from civil rights activist Amanda Nguyen went viral on Instagram. Nguyen called on media outlets and people of influence to speak up and report on the then-recent wave of racially motivated crimes, including the killing of 84-year-old Thai American Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco. If you're not an active follower of Asian American news, Nguyen's video may have even been the first you even heard of attacks against Asian Americans amid the pandemic. "Our community is being attacked and we are dying to be heard," Nguyen had said.
Experiencing racism related to COVID-19 has clearly affected Asian Americans' well-being and health, but it's also severely impacted businesses, employment, and work culture for many Asian Americans. All this is in addition to perpetual fears surrounding the virus itself, which Asian Americans experience along with all other populations. No matter how you identify personally, here are some ways you can help fight the bias against Asian Americans amid COVID-19.
Amplify Asian American stories
Stories of violence and racism against Asian Americans are not talked about and reported on enough, specifically among people outside of the APIA community. In an interview with POPSUGAR, Nguyen explained that while discrimination against our community is unfortunately not new, "what is new is that we're at an inflection point where people can choose now, whether or not they will speak up and what kind of future we want for our country." So it starts with the self. "It starts with everyone realizing the power they have in order to shape our democracy and our country," Nguyen said. In order to combat bias against our community, it's important to begin by recognizing and learning about the issues we face, which can only be achieved by increasing visibility of these stories. Broaden the scope of news and stories you consume, and share them. The APIA community is often silenced, so it's crucial for allies to help break that silence and speak up for Asian Americans. Following Asian American activists and organizations on social media, like Nguyen and Stop AAPI Hate, is a good place to start.
Be mindful of anti-Asian rhetoric
Though the first reported cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan, China, and minorities are disproportionately affected by the virus in the US, no specific group or individual is more likely to spread COVID-19 than others. As Rep. Judy Chu explained at a news conference back in August, it is entirely possible to discuss COVID-19 and China's role in the pandemic without encouraging anti-Asian sentiment and endangering Asian Americans. The congresswoman even released a toolkit to guide politicians on avoiding associating the virus with a specific country or ethnicity, like steering away from using terms like "Chinese virus" and "the Chinese."
But these types of guidelines don't just apply to politicians — your friends and peers can also be guilty of using biased language, so it's important to hold yourself and the people around you accountable in unlearning and correcting any anti-Asian rhetoric in your vocabulary. While refraining from the use of overtly racist terms like the "Chinese virus" and "Kung flu" might seem obvious, be thoughtful in general not to associate the virus with the Chinese or Asian community in any way. Avoid sharing insensitive (and dangerously inaccurate) jokes or memes, like those referring to the coronavirus as originating from eating bats.
Speak up for the Asian American community
If you have friends who are victims of racially fueled hate crimes or verbal attacks, support them in any way you can, whether that's speaking up for them if the situation feels safe or just being there to show your friends you condemn that type of behavior. If you witness a hate crime, consider reporting the incident, if the victim is comfortable with you doing so. As an ally that might have more privilege, you can be a helpful aide to victims by simply showing your support and making them feel safe.
In everyday life, beyond the pandemic and regardless of whether you witness a hate crime, be a strong ally for Asian Americans. Challenge the biased language around you, elevate Asian and Asian American stories, and hold your friends and family accountable as well.
Check in on your API friends
If your Asian American friends haven't experienced hate themselves during this time, chances are, they have family, friends, or a community member who has. Moreover, members of the Asian American community have been inundated with stories of racially charged attacks all over their social feeds, so whether they're personally dealing with this racism or not, check in on your Asian American friends and ask how you can offer your support.
Support Asian-owned local businesses
Many businesses have been financially impacted by COVID-19, but Asian-owned restaurants and stores have been hit particularly hard by the added layer of xenophobia surrounding the virus. Some restaurants in Chinatowns across the country reported losing as much as 80 percent of their business in March 2020 as a direct result of coronavirus misconceptions related to Asians. Support Asian-owned establishments by ordering takeout or delivery from restaurants, contributing to local funds like Welcome to Chinatown to offer financial relief to affected businesses, and spreading the word to your communities.
Donate to relevant funds and organizations
If you're able to, donate to funds that help combat hate against Asian Americans. There are a number of nonprofits and organizations you can contribute to, like Stop AAPI Hate, which uses donations to track and respond to the surge in racism and xenophobia, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which fights for APIA rights through education, litigation, and public policy advocacy. You can also donate directly to victims of hate crimes and the families of those affected, like this memorial legacy fund for Vicha Ratanapakdee's family.
Call on your leaders to condemn racism against Asian Americans
Urge your leaders at the local, state, and national levels to speak out against racism, take steps to prevent xenophobic attacks related to COVID-19, and prosecute hate crimes. Previously, members of the Trump administration and prominent senators have used anti-Asian rhetoric and placed blame on China while discussing the coronavirus, and have capitalized on COVID-19 concerns in order to advance anti-immigration policies. These actions coming from leaders are harmful to the Asian American community and can indirectly encourage people to follow suit.
While Biden's recent executive order denouncing racial discrimination against the community was certainly a welcome change from the previous administration, it's only a start. The plan urges both federal agencies and the Department of Health and Human Services to remove and avoid any discriminatory language surrounding COVID-19, and calls for the Department of Justice to collect data on hate crimes directed at APIA. But there is much more to be done, like increasing protections for individuals.
On a community level, reaching out to your local leaders urging them to take measures to protect Asian Americans can also have a direct impact on your own area. You can find your officials' contact information on the USA.gov website.
If you're an Asian American facing xenophobia, there's even more you can do to protect and take care of yourself.
Share your story
First, understand that a racially fueled incident is not your fault in any way. If you feel comfortable, share your experience with your friends, family, and online community to bring attention to these disturbing attacks. Speaking up about your story might empower others to do the same — "The most powerful tool we have is our words," Nguyen told POPSUGAR. She continued, "It's OK to be scared. That fear, that grief is valid. But if you speak up and shine light to your truth — there might be a chance that there are trolls, and it's difficult and it's painful — but there also is an equal chance that people will step up and say, 'I am joining you in solidarity.'"
Prioritize your safety
That being said, while speaking up is important, remember that your own safety always comes first. You might also feel inclined to document an attack with photos and videos, but only do so if you feel safe. Stop AAPI Hate emphasizes the importance of prioritizing your safety, so if you feel you might be in danger, leave the incident immediately and ask any bystanders for support. It's also important to remember that it's not your responsibility as a marginalized individual to educate anyone on what's appropriate and what's offensive, so don't feel the need to address attackers in any way if you're not comfortable.
Consider reporting the incident
If you'd prefer not to report hate crimes to the police, consider filing an incident report through Stop AAPI Hate's form. Stop AAPI Hate encourages people who have experienced any type of microaggressions, bullying, hate speech, harassment, or violence to document their experiences, so that they can work to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. The form is available in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Punjabi, in addition to English and other Asian languages.
Seek support if you need it
Once you're removed from the situation, lean on your friends, family, or loved ones for emotional support and to talk about what happened. Don't be afraid to seek mental health support — check out these resources and platforms for BIPOC to get started. Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization dedicated to advancing civil and human rights for Asian Americans, also offers resources for victims, such as providing assistance with legal and social services through the Stop Hate hotline (1-844-9-NO-HATE), which is accessible in a number of languages.