As we welcomed Lunar New Year, it was anything but typical for our Asian community. This year, in addition to the pandemic, we also face the challenge of increased hate crimes toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Notably, there has been a dramatic rise in unprovoked violence against elderly Asians in neighborhoods and communities including San Francisco, Oakland, New York, and the U.K.
In response to the escalating violence against Asian elders, President Biden has signed an executive order, that states his administration is:
“Condemning Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Federal Government has a responsibility to prevent racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against everyone in America, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. My Administration condemns and denounces acts of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPI communities.”
Last month, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year old Thai man, died two days after being attacked while walking in San Francisco. Days later, a second incident saw a 91-year-old man violently attacked while walking in Oakland’s Chinatown, the latest in a string of reported physical attacks and robberies targeting Asian men and women in the Bay Area. These are just a few of the acts of violence directed towards our community and are not isolated to the incidents of early 2021. Rather, this dates back to ongoing anti-Asian racism in the U.S. with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first U.S. law to restrict the immigration of a specific ethnic group, the World War II incarceration of Japanese in internment camps — to the recent rise in anti-Asian and xenophobic rhetoric following COVID-19.
These anti-Asian sentiments and incidents are not isolated to the U.S. Across the globe, we are seeing the effects on East and Southeast Asian communities. A Chinese woman was pushed into a canal in Dublin and a survey finds that one in seven people in the U.K. prefer to avoid people of Chinese origin or appearance during the pandemic.
The implications of these attacks have wide reaching consequences for these communities and the societies in which they reside. As the global president of Asiapacforce — our employee resource group for the Asian Pacific Islander community and allies — I am deeply saddened and frustrated by these ongoing attacks against our community. I am a first-generation Asian American, born and raised in San Francisco, and the daughter of immigrant parents. I am scared, I am anxious, and I am deeply hurting for our community. Having been born and raised here, I’ve never experienced a more frightful time than now, for myself as a small 5’1” Asian woman certainly. But moreso for my grandmother, a resident of San Francisco Chinatown, who’s shared her fear of being helpless in the event she is targeted for discrimination. She is amongst the many elderly, and non-elderly, who are now afraid to leave their own homes as a result of these reported attacks.
Not only are members of the community in physical danger, but they also experience incredible mental and emotional distress. This issue is further compounded by the fact that Asian Americans are the racial group least likely to reach out for help, and are three times less likely than white people to seek mental health resources. We’ve been dubbed the “model minority,” a harmful myth that sows division between minority groups and creates the perception that Asians do not experience similar degrees of hardships as other minorities. The term has also been used to create a racial wedge between Asians and other people of color.
This cannot go on. Let’s take action together. We ask our allies and the AAPI community to raise awareness to the ongoing injustice against our Asian community. To help show your support, here are six ways you can get involved today:
1. Openly discuss anti-Asian bias
Many major news outlets are not covering this ongoing issue and we all need to do our part to raise awareness. On a personal level, bring up these issues on your social media platform and to your friends and family. At work, create safe spaces — or “Equality Circles” as we call them at Salesforce — where employees can share how this affects them and invite allies to learn firsthand how to better support our community. We cannot change what we don’t talk about.
However, be mindful of how you approach this topic. Check in first with your AAPI friends and colleagues to see if they’re comfortable talking about how they are doing. Be empathetic and understanding of how this is affecting many on a very personal level.
2. Offer support for your Asian colleagues
Create employee resource groups (ERGs) or Equality Groups, employee-led organizations that build community, educate allies, and drive equality. If you already have one, like Asiapacforce, reach out to learn how you can get involved. We put together programs and internal resources for our employees — check to see what is available or use this post as a starting point.
Offer mental well-being benefits to your employees such as access to therapists and mindfulness tools. As a people leader, check in with your Asian employees to better understand how they are doing. When we log onto work, we bring our full selves, including how this may be weighing on us. Take an active role in checking in and encourage taking time off. We are still living through a pandemic and employees are dealing with more than ever before.
3. Understand intersectionality and promote intercommunity dialogue
Oftentimes, Asians of all backgrounds are lumped together. But we are not a monolith. While we face many of the same issues in the U.S., we also have different concerns and immigration stories, specific to East and Southeast Asian communities. Seek to understand first, how geographically, our communities are different and then, understand and respect the intersectionality and cultural nuances between our greater community.
Bias also plays a role here. Seek to understand. How are you perpetuating myths or unhealthy dialogue that further false narratives about marginalized communities? Check your unconscious bias and be aware of how microaggressions may seep in.
Be sure to continue the work. Create a safe space for healthy dialogue both within and outside of your community and have anti-racist conversations at home. This is not the time to stand against each other, it is the time to unite.
4. Be an “active ally”
We must continue to build allyship within and outside of our communities. Learn how to be an active ally. Recognize your privilege, practice empathetic listening, and seek to understand through learning. For a historical overview on anti-Asian racism in America: learn about America’s long history of scapegoating its Asian citizens, read “Chinese in America” by Iris Chang, and watch the PBS documentary “Asian Americans.”
As an active ally, consistently identify if and when instances of racism happen, and take action to dismantle it. Hold those in places of power accountable to drive better outcomes for the most marginalized communities by putting in policies, protection, and economic relief. Get involved and call your local representatives to take action, donate to mutual aid, attend events at Asian cultural and historical institutions, volunteer at community groups that support Asian seniors, and frequent Asian-owned restaurants.
We need to continue to support the organizations deeply invested in reimagining what accountability and safety look like for us all. This is a long journey and will require us to have ongoing courageous dialogue with one another.
5. Empower, amplify, and uplift minority voices in the workplace
AAPI face what researchers have called a “bamboo ceiling” — “an invisible barrier to advancement akin to the ‘glass ceiling’ that women face.” The term was coined in 2005 by Jane Hyun in Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians, where she addresses the barriers faced by many Asian Americans in the professional arena, including stereotypes and racism.
As a people leader, actively look for ways to elevate and uplift minority voices and support career growth. Reevaluate how you hand out assignments, revise your promotion process to ensure it’s fair and equitable for all, and work to check your bias on an ongoing basis.
6. Give back
Nonprofit organizations supporting the Asian community need your help. As a company, consider organizing volunteer activities for your employees and matching your employees’ donations to worthy nonprofits. If you don’t have a philanthropic program at your company, set it up now. Be active and use your platform to encourage employees to get involved and show you are taking an active stand for racial equality. Here are some organizations to get you started:
Organizations to support
- Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus: Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus is the nation’s first legal and civil rights organization serving the low-income Asian Pacific American communities with a focus on housing rights, immigration and immigrants’ rights, labor and employment issues, student advocacy, civil rights and hate violence, national security, and criminal justice reform.
- Chinatown Community Development Center: The Chinatown Community Development Center (Chinatown CDC) is at the forefront of community advocacy, planning, and affordable housing development in San Francisco.
- Chinese Progressive Association: The Chinese Progressive Association educates, organizes and empowers the low-income and working class immigrant Chinese community in San Francisco to build collective power, advocate for better living and working conditions, and achieve justice for all people.
- Stop AAPI Hate: The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in California and, where possible, throughout the United States.
Reporting anti-Asian hate crimes
Read about, learn about, and support the Asian community
I urge you to take action, get involved, and raise awareness about the ongoing xenophobic rethoric and violence thats impacting our Asian community. It’s up to all of us to do our part to end systemic racism — whether it’s educating yourself on how to be an antiracist, being an ally, or forming or joining an employee resource group, get involved today. You can learn more about building an inclusive workplace by taking the Cultivate Equality trail.