How to Support Asians and Asian Americans in the Face of Violence
by Dr. Joyce del Rosario
My social media feed has a string of reports of new uprisings of violence against Asians and Asian Americans. I was recently part of a panel gathered by an Asian American United Methodist group to discuss our experiences of anti-Asian violence which have dramatically increased since the pandemic began. There an 82-year-old Chinese American man rose to speak, “I’ve lived here for 30 years, and for the first time in my life, I’m afraid to walk outside of my door.” He’s not alone.
- January 30, 2021: 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, a Thai grandfather, died as a result of being shoved into a San Francisco sidewalk.
- February 8, 2021: A 91-year-old man was shoved to the pavement in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood.
- February 8, 2021: Kevin Jian, a Yale graduate; police are still determining if he was targeted in the deadly shooting.
A year ago, I was taking a much-needed shelter-in-place-walk in my neighborhood, when a man drove by and yelled at me. I had my headphones on so I wasn’t sure what he said, but I could see the anger and hate written all over his face. In another instance, a colleague of mine, who is also a Filipina American, was also yelled at and spat on while she was shopping at the Farmer’s market in San Francisco. And yet another friend, who is Korean American, told me about being yelled at while she went for a run in her neighborhood. Asian Americans are being treated like scapegoats for the fear surrounding this deadly disease, and it has become common place for many across the country to experience hate and violence in these pandemic times.
But, to quote Irene Cho:
ASIANS AND ASIAN AMERICANS ARE NOT A VIRUS.
Now, before one conjures up images of patriotic White supremacists committing these acts of violence, let me assure you that in each of the stories I just shared, the attackers were White, Black, and Brown. Our neighbors treat us as if Asian Americans are to blame in spite of a culture of American individualism coupled with the government’s reluctance to do what was necessary, each of which could have significantly curbed the spread of the virus. Adding fuel to hate, the previous president, at his departure and in his waning moments in the office, still called Covid-19 the “China Flu,” much like last year when he referred to it as the “Kung Flu.” These racist remarks from the former president only added to an already tense Black and White racial climate.
The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council has reported over 2,800 incidents of discrimination and harassment in the last year. And these are just the self-reported numbers. The previous President of the United States, through careless xenophobic rhetoric, has deemed Asian Americans as coronavirus virus villains, leaving the AAPI vulnerable to these hateful attacks.
Kenji Karumitsu wrote an article for Inheritance magazine called “The Model Minority Myth and the Wedge between Black/White America.” It’s a great piece that highlights how Asian Americans, depicted as “model minorities,” have been used by White America to shame Black America. The myth of the model minority depicts Asian Americans as successful people of color. Karumitsu refers to a NY Times article in 1966 that first coined the term “model minority” by implying, “The playing field is level. The Asians are successful, Why do the Blacks need help? African Americans must somehow be unintelligent, lazy, and criminals.” This narrative of one minority group being a “better example” than the other was only ever meant to support White supremacy.
Karumitsu reminds us that the model minority myth was meant to further anti-Black efforts by the White supremacist systems that continue to oppress and disempower African Americans to this day. The myth supported White supremacy and anti-Blackness by treating us as pawns, creating the illusion that Asian Americans are somehow better because we are almost White.
This myth functionally hid US government policies which promoted the immigration of upper and middle-class Asian people who’d found success before immigrating, while also ignoring the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who struggled in poverty and invisibility throughout their entire existence in the US.
This myth is also fickle. We can be model minorities one minute and bearers of a “Kung Flu” the next. Asian racism is truly the wedge that supports White supremacy from all sides. It uplifts Asians as model minorities when it helps Anti-Black narratives and villainizes Asians when it supports White supremacy. Either way White supremacy wins as long as we (regardless of our race) continue to buy into these narratives.
I’m often asked ‘what can I do to help?’ For non-Asians, before taking action, I suggest reflecting and learning first. For API folks, learning our histories and finding communities of support is helpful. Here are some suggestions toward that:
- Recognize the ways in which White supremacy pits BIPOC against each other. If Asian Americans are seen by other BIPOCs as privileged or “basically White” the idea of violence against them can be justified. This is a great lie of White supremacy. We cannot diminish the ways in which Indigenous, Black, and Brown people have suffered under violence for centuries, nor can we ignore the violence experienced in AAPI communities.
- Recognize the ways in which Asian Americans have been used as “model minorities” to shame Black and Brown communities while also colonizing and pacifying Asian Americans, all while supporting White supremacy.
- Recognize that White supremacy will continue to kill and oppress people of color without solidarity. This does not mean we have to reconcile and “heal” together because for many BIPOCs this is too soon without the analysis and a commitment needed to dismantle White supremacy. It means we need to learn and educate others about BIPOC histories and the systems that have supported racial violence.
- Watch the PBS special on Asian American history. It’s the history you never learned in a classroom. It’s the history that doesn’t get told. https://www.pbs.org/show/asian-americans/
- Watch my videocast, “The Wedge” where I feature Asian American pastors, academics, and community organizers who work toward combatting anti-Blackness and have also allied with Brown communities, particularly around immigration justice because of our shared struggles. https://www.joycedelrosario.com/the-wedge
- Read Asian Pacific Islander stories in Inheritance Magazine and understand our stories, experiences, and reflections that affirm API identities and contribute to a more inclusive and multi-faceted understanding of Christian Faith. https://www.inheritancemag.com
- Read topical reflections in Reclaim Magazine from the Asian American Christian Collaborative https://www.asianamericanchristiancollaborative.com
- Pray: Pastor Erina Kim Eubanks’ Prayer Against Anti-Asian Violence. https://erinaspeaks.medium.com/a-prayer-against-anti-asian-violence-for-the-protection-of-our-elders-d0429bdd738f
- Report incidents of hate toward AAPI people at https://stopaapihate.org
- If you are Asian American in CCDA, join the CCDA AAPI network. For more information contact [email protected]
Learn more about Dr. Joyce del Rosario here: https://www.joycedelrosario.com/