<Photo by Katie Godowski from Pexels>
Roughly two years ago I wrote an open letter to managers on how to support black employees during the awful amount of murders taking place in the name of "justice". Black employees in corporate America often feel unheard and it was time for their concerns about the world to be known to their non-black management. I write again because there is a new group in need.
The state of AAPI hate
In the past few years #StopAAPIHate has become a phrase in the zeitgeist. Sadly, it has not reached the level of attention that it needs. I won’t assume that everyone understands what is going on so I will do my best to summarize events.
NOTE I want to state that I do not identify as Asian or Pacific Islander. I try to be an ally and I have heard a lot of close friends relay some of these feelings towards me and I felt like I had to say something.
I will also go ahead and say that I won’t play a comparison game. I am not here to argue which minority group had it worse. Every group had its struggles and they still exist. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We don’t need to focus on only one group at a time. I think the idea that we can only help one group at a time was created just to keep marginalized groups fighting among themselves.
Stop AAPI Hate started in 2020 in response to the rise in attack on Asians due to the COVID-19 breakouts. The virus originated from Wuhan and people took their anger out on anyone who looked remotely Chinese. Of course, it didn’t help that many politicians and media personalities were calling it the "Chinese Virus". There were people in power who absolutely fanned the flames of hate in order to distract from their failure to act during a global pandemic.
Verbal abuse, being shunned, being spat/coughed on, and even physical attacks were on the rise in a way that we hadn’t seen in a long time. Sadly, many of these issues fell on deaf ears as Asians and Pacific Islanders were once again ignored.
This all came to a head in March of 2021 when several shootings took place in Atlanta, enacted by the same murderer. He claimed that he was suffering from "sexual addiction" and went to murder these women to remove "temptation". Instead of doing the reasonable thing and talking to a therapist or something, he created a scapegoat to get away with taking human lives. He pinned his problem with sexual addiction on the women. Once this happened, we started to see more people getting concerned.
Hatred of Asians is Not New
Don’t let the whole model minority myth fool you. Asians have had and continue to have a hard time in America. In fact, that whole myth was largely just created as a form of propaganda to be used against other minority groups but also hide the truths of what it’s like to be Asian in America. "Hey they make a lot of money and become doctors, they don’t have it that bad" is just not true.
Did you know that America was largely an "open borders" nation until around 1882 when the Chinese Exclusion Act passed? In short, it kept Chinese immigrants from coming to America and prevent the ones that were already here from ever being naturalized. This kept Chinese people from ever truly being part of America. But did you know that there was an anti-Chinese act passed a few years before?
The Page Act singled out Asian women. The common belief was that Asian women were more sexually promiscuous than white women and the only reason an unmarried Asian woman would want to come to America would to be a prostitute and corrupt the good people of America. The Act essentially gave our government the right to subject Asian women whom wanted to come to America to embarrassing questions and medical exams to prove that they weren’t prostitutes. With this context, Asian fetishization makes more sense. As a nation, we have always fetishized and sexualized Asian women.
During WW2, we had Executive Order 9066 which removed Japanese people from their homes, businesses, and communities and put them in internment camps. This was for no other reason than the fact that they held the same ethnic background as "the enemy". Make no mistake, this anti-Asian sentiment didn’t just appear due to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It has been in America for a long time and the attack gave America the excuse to intern Japanese-Americans.
But hey, it’s all great now right? I mean, everyone loves Asians and sees them as hardworking people right? Well unfortunately, this was a part of a major propaganda campaign. America, as a whole, shifted from hating Asians to "loving" them in the 60s on. During the Civil Rights movement, they became a useful "tool" against Black Americans. "Why can’t you just be calm and quiet like the Asians?" was the rhetoric that was used then and still to this day.
This all stems from white supremacy sadly. To simplify my definition, white supremacy is the idea that white people are inherently superior for no other reason than being descendant from Europeans. A significant portion of the country’s problems stem from that. It’s better for the people in power to have poor white folk not see poor minorities as an ally but instead as a threat. It is also useful to have minorities fight among each other. It’s all to ensure a small group of people maintain generational power.
Lyndon Baines Johnson said it best when he said "If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you." So when businesses start to shutdown and we all have to stay home, it’s easier to blame Asians for COVID than the government’s poor response of the people who spread vaccine and COVID misinformation.
Where Are We Now?
So that was a very abridged version on Asians in America. There are many resources out there if you would like to learn more. I would actually recommend Erika Lee’s book "The Making of Asian Americans" as a good starting point. It is important to understand the history to realize that these issues didn’t just appear out of nowhere but that it’s part of a larger, systemic issue.
These issues also don’t magically vanish with time. I still have vivid memories of my 8 year old cousins in the early 2000s talking poorly about the Hmong people in their community. People at that age rarely form their own opinions and are usually parroting what they hear from the adults in their lives. These problematic beliefs get passed down and that’s why they still exist today.
Sadly, Asians have been invisible, hated, fetishized and used a lot in America. Now, they are yet another scapegoat for everything wrong in the country. Violence against Asian Americans in on the rise. Naturally, this may make many of our Asian identifying friends uneasy.
To be very clear, violence isn’t the only concern that Asians may experience. There is also just the micro-agressions (and aggressions) that come with the territory. These instances aren’t limited to the streets but they also happen in the workplace.
With RTO (Return To Office) happening soon, many companies are expecting their employees to return to the office either full time or part time. I have heard many of my Asian colleagues bring up the concern for their safety during their commute. On top of that, there is the mental toll it takes on hearing news stories wondering if you will be next.
As I did in 2020, I call on managers of Asian employees to take the time to listen. Your staff may need to take a day or two off to process things. They may need a lighter load for a week or so. Yes, we all need to be productive as a company, however, your employees are human beings, not machines. They can’t give 100% output 100% of the time. They need rest, to realign, etc. Now if you view your employees as machines then that’s on you. But if you claim that you care about employee well-being, you need to see them as people.
Just because something doesn’t directly involve or you don’t understand it or you don’t think it’s a big deal DOES NOT give you the right to marginalize someone else’s fears and experiences. Racism, bigotry, hate are all real things in this world and they affect groups disproportionately. You do not have to have experienced something to be an ally. You just need to have an open mind and heart for people who are different.
I will always remember the times my racial trauma was dismissed because the manager had a hard time believing that this stuff could still exist today. Racial Trauma is real and it is important to be sensitive about these issues when you are talking to your diverse teams.
If you are going to be doing in-person events, offer to ensure that your team member gets home safely. Walk them to the subway, wait with them for their Uber/Lyft/Cab etc.
So again, I advise managers, co-workers and allies to be understanding at this time. Be willing to allow people the space to breathe and cope at their own pace and be there for them if and when they need the support.