‘This is your time to stand up and speak’: addressing anti-Asian racism in the COVID-19 era

Biology junior Tiffany Duong pictured March 6 in front of Ransom Hall. Duong suggests checking in on any Asian friends and family just to make sure they are safe.  

Many know American basketball player Jeremy Lin as the first Asian American to win an NBA championship. Last month in a Facebook post, Lin shared his experience of being called “coronavirus” on the court. 

Later, in a tweet, Lin said naming names or tearing others down isn’t the way to fix this issue, instead urging people to extend kindness to the Asians in their lives and support Asian American films and projects. 

Anti-Asian hate crimes in America’s largest cities spiked almost 150% in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. 

According to a 2020 article by Pew Research Center, 39% of Asian adults said that racist and racially insensitive views had become more commonly expressed since the COVID-19 outbreak began, and 3 in 10 said they had been subject to slurs or jokes. 

What’s happening 

Multicultural Affairs director Melanie Johnson said historically it hasn’t been uncommon for people to use race as a scapegoat during challenging times. 

The situation during the COVID-19 pandemic is similar. People blame Asian Americans for the spread of the virus in the U.S. rather than acknowledging that many Americans failed to wear masks or adhere to the restrictions and advice given by health care officials. 

With politicians calling COVID-19 derogatory names like the “Chinese virus” or the “kung flu,” Johnson said it has only increased hatred toward the Asian community. 

Historically, leaders have used scare tactics to blame someone else, Johnson said. People are led to believe that certain groups are the origin of various issues when in reality that’s not the case, she said. 

When the pandemic began, biology junior Tiffany Duong said she was nervous about going to the grocery store, even if only for five minutes. 

During these trips to the store, she made herself smaller so that others wouldn’t be uneasy in her presence. Duong said she was terrified of being perceived as a threat to the shoppers around her and wanted them to know that she was a nice person who wasn’t going to do anything to them. 

Since then, there’s been an increase in xenophobic attacks, specifically crimes against elderly Asians. 

Duong said oftentimes elderly Asians don’t speak much English, and they are especially vulnerable. It’s heartbreaking to see other people’s grandmothers getting pushed when they haven’t done anything to anyone, she said. 

Normalization of racism 

When kinesiology junior Dylan Ngo was growing up, he didn’t have many Asian friends, and the friends he did have made jokes about his eyes. 

Ngo said that at the time, it didn’t bother him, and he brushed it aside. But as he got older, he stopped looking the other way. 

Duong said that she believes that anti-Asian racism is something that has become normalized in society, and non-Asians may not be aware of it. 

The use of stereotypes such as “all Asians are good at math” is harmful because it helps normalize racism, which affects the Asian community as a whole, she said. 

Ngo said he feels like whenever Asians stand up for themselves, they get dismissed for not being able to take a joke. Asian Americans are often seen as weak and sensitive for calling out something that’s racist, he said. 

With more people speaking out on the topic, Ngo thinks it’s because Asian Americans don’t want to be seen as submissive anymore. They’re allowed to stand up for themselves, he said. 

Ngo said it sucks having jokes made about you and being expected to just take it, and people should put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand how hurtful it is. 

He believes moving forward, education and empathy will play an important role in the country’s healing overall. 

Need for change 

Duong said she thinks some people feel it’s OK to be openly racist because of the casual racism expressed by political leaders like former President Donald Trump. 

But times are changing. More people are socially aware now and are quick to call out stuff they feel is wrong, she said. 

There’s a huge cultural shift between generations, Duong said. Elderly people who are attacked tend to be less open about their experiences, making them an easier target. Younger generations are taught that it’s OK to speak out and tell someone. 

Johnson said she believes the call for change is happening now because young Asian Americans are finding their voices and speaking out. 

They’re taking ownership of the fact that they are entitled to the same constitutional rights as everyone else and should be treated fairly, she said. 

Li-Ya Mar, adjunct assistant Chinese professor, said in her experience, racism is a taboo topic in America, and Asian communities are typically more low-key about the racism and prejudice they face. 

Keeping your head down, doing your work and not drawing attention to yourself is common in Asian culture, she said. 

Attention has turned toward Asian communities because of COVID-19, resulting in attacks being reported and magnified. Because of this, Mar said people are starting to listen to what Asian Americans have to say. 

Mar believes there’s been an awakening in the Asian community in the past year, resulting in more Asian activists stepping up. People are starting to see that they have to pay attention to what’s happening, and the only way to achieve justice is by standing together and helping each other out, she said. 

Mar said it’s important to know what’s happening in the world, rather than just focusing on what’s relevant to us. A common humanity exists within all people, and we need one another as allies, she said. 

There’s a lot of work that has to be done, and it can only happen if people of all races and ethnicities come together, Mar said. 

How to help 

Duong said a good way to help is to spread awareness of charities or racially-charged crime reporting organizations like Stop AAPI Hate, which focuses on ending racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

However, there are right and wrong ways to spread awareness, and it’s important to know how to do so without bringing others down, Duong said. 

Guilting people into supporting a movement because they’ve supported other issues in the past is not the way to spread activism, she said. 

Like Lin, Duong encourages people to check up on Asian friends and family. Make sure they’re safe and support them when something happens, especially the older Asian generation, she said. 

Mar said a good way to be an ally is by getting involved with nonprofits or supporting your Asian friends in their endeavors. 

Cheering on Asians when they run for things like Student Government is important, she said, because representation matters. More representation creates more opportunities. 

Celebrities like Gemma Chan, who starred in Crazy Rich Asians, and model Chrissy Teigen have also spoken against the rise in hate crimes on Twitter and Instagram. 

Hearing the Asian American community’s concerns is another crucial part of being a good ally, Johnson said. Speaking up in places where Asian Americans may not be present and advocating for them is significant, too. 

Johnson once had a conversation with a student who told her that those who advocate for equality shouldn’t be concerned with whether that equality looks like them or not. You’re not speaking up for one person, but rather for equality as a whole. 

“If you’re truly standing up for equality, this is your time to stand up and speak,” Johnson said. 

@aivylinaa

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