As Asian American communities reel from an uptick in violence and hate spurred by racist rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic, advocates are urging Americans to be allies in actionable ways that go beyond words.
Even as overall hate crimes fell in 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans in major U.S. cities grew nearly 150 percent. Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group Stop AAPI Hate has recorded at least 3,795 reported incidents of hate against Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
On Tuesday, a white gunman fatally shot eight people, including six Asian women, in a series of killings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area. The shootings are the latest in a series of violent incidents against Asian Americans across the country, including the January assault and killing of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco.
As lawmakers grapple with how to address the discrimination and violence, Asian American community leaders shared advice with the PBS NewsHour about ways Americans can help.
Support the immediate needs of AAPI groups on the ground in Georgia
Right now, there’s a need to support Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the Atlanta area, who are reeling from the aftermath of the March 16 killings.
“It’s listening to the immediately impacted folks — the communities on the ground — and honoring what they’re asking for, and what they’re saying they need,” said Marita Etcubañez, senior director of strategic initiatives at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC.
Asian American Advancing Justice – Atlanta is currently calling for local and state governments to provide “crisis intervention resources, including in-language support for mental health, legal, employment and immigration services.” The organization also has callouts for anyone to:
- Sign their collective community statement
- Donate to the Atlanta victims and their families
- Share resources you can offer to the victims, their families and other community members like language translation, mental health services, legal services, childcare or food assistance.
Speak out if you witness a hate crime or incident
“If you happen to find yourself witnessing something … either speak out or actually intervene and defend the other person,” Vietnamese American author Viet Thanh Nguyen told the PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz.
When Nguyen was a college student in Berkeley, California, he witnessed a white man berating a South Asian American man in a copy shop. “I had to step in and say something even though I was just a bystander,” Nguyen said. “The white gentleman was so upset he just stormed out and the South Asian owner said, ‘Thank you for speaking up for me and stepping in between.’”
While some witnesses have been recording these incidents, Stop AAPI Hate has tips for both those experiencing hate and those witnessing it, such as prioritizing safety first and trying to stay calm
“Over and over again, we heard from respondents [who submitted reports of hate] that it was hurtful to be targeted,” said Cynthia Choi, Stop AAPI Hate’s co-founder. “But it was even more hurtful to have no one stand with them — no one intervened when clearly they were being targeted because of their race, ethnicity and gender.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Speak Up” strategies suggest four steps when responding to coronavirus racism: interrupt, question, educate and echo, and explains each of them in this guide. And the Anti-Defamation League has guides in English, Spanish and Arabic for how to respond to hate.
Report the hate crime or incident
If it’s a violent situation or safety is in danger, call 911 immediately.
Hate crimes are underreported. Asian American community leaders say reporting an incident you experienced or witnessed can help bring greater awareness and strengthens the chance a perpetrator will be prosecuted. Hate crimes can be reported both to your local police and by tips to the FBI.
Over the last year, Stop AAPI Hate’s reporting center — which you can submit to in multiple languages — has been tracking thousands of incidents across the United States. There are also community sites like AAJC’s Stand Against Hatred website, where you can share your experiences.
Consider taking part in a training about hate
AAJC has partnered with the organization Hollaback! to host bystander intervention trainings so people can learn how to stop anti-Asian and xenophobic harassment when they see it.
“What we communicate in the training is that it’s important to address even the seemingly inconsequential behaviors, because that is a moment where your intervention might actually be able to reach the person who’s demonstrating the objectionable behavior and use it as a teachable moment,” said Etcubañez. “This isn’t the answer to systemic racism, but it’s a step that we can all take to contribute to a society where it’s clear that these behaviors are not acceptable.”
Check in with your Asian American peers
With some Asian Americans afraid to go out in the current climate, said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), she said one of the most important things to do is to ask the Asian Americans in your life what you can do to support them. That could be something as simple as offering to help them go to the grocery store or to run an errand. “People are very afraid, and I think those gestures could make a lot of people really reassured that they are part of our larger American community,” Huang said.
People should also listen to Asian American women and elders — and center their experiences, advises Vivien Tsou, national field director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). “Oftentimes people assume that it’s a wave that comes and goes, and I need people to see it as deeply structural and cultural problems within the United States that are rooted in white supremacy,” Tsou said.
Learn about the history of Asian American discrimination
AAPI leaders also urge the importance of understanding the history of Asian Americans in the United States, how the community is not a monolith and how diverse the experiences of each community within America are.
“Asia is an extraordinarily enormous region of the world … so the experiences of Asian Americans are not uniform by any stretch,” Huang said. “Understanding Asian history in the country, understanding the different experiences of different communities will also go a long way to demonstrating how Asian Americans have always been part of the U.S. story.”
There are countless books by Asian American authors that can help illuminate the Asian American experience in the U.S. The PBS NewsHour’s February book club pick — “Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu — is a dark commentary on Asian American racism and representation. Vox also put together a reading list of books from authors and experts in Asian American history.
“We believe that ethnic studies and understanding sources of racism really promotes racial empathy … or community,” said Stop AAPI Hate’s Choi.
Advocate for awareness in your workplace
Choi believes businesses can go beyond issuing statements of solidarity by using their platforms to support things like community-based initiatives.
“We’re hearing from so many individuals who are pushing their workplaces to do better in terms of creating space for their employees to understand this issue,” Choi said. “Every entity has a platform … Whether you’re the NBA, Google or a faith community, use your platform to talk about this issue to understand it, so that you can think about how you want to participate in doing anti-racism work.”
Reach out to your elected officials
While some lawmakers are actively discussing the issue, AAPI community advocates emphasize it’s important to reach out to your elected officials.
SPLC’s Huang says Americans should ask politicians to work toward better ways of understanding and collecting data on hate crimes. At the local level in Georgia, the Asian American Advocacy Fund — a progressive organization — has advice to contact elected officials about specific bills and votes that affect Asian American communities.
Tsou’s organization, NAPAWF, has put together a petition that asks elected officials to center the needs of affected communities, tackle systemic racism and to address the needs of survivors.
“We want to make it very clear … it’s not just about race. It’s not just about gender,” Tsou said. “It is about white supremacy and anti-Asian racism. It’s about sexism. It’s about intersectional, sexual violence that Asian American women face.”