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.
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 AAPI 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.
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