• There has been a surge of anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents of racism during the COVID-19 pandemic - and children have not been spared.
  • The harmful “perpetual foreigners” and “model minority” racial stereotypes are contributing to the rise.
  • Here are some of the multi-faceted solutions needed to address this issue.

I became a father during the pandemic. Like many new dads, I struggled with the ups and downs of early fatherhood, and worried about how to keep the baby well and healthy.

However, between diaper changes and midnight feedings, as an Asian American father, a surge of anti-Asian hate incidents in the past year have added another layer of concern - how can I prepare this precious little one for the harsh reality of a rise in anti-Asian hate?

Parents naturally wish the best of everything for their children. In that sense, becoming a father has given me a higher purpose to fight for a just world for my son, and all children, to grow up in.

Recent rise in anti-Asian hate

For many people of Asian ancestry in the US, they have faced two pandemics in the past year: the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge in anti-Asian violence and hate. From a Filipino American attacked in broad daylight in New York to the shooting and killing of six Asian women in Atlanta to violent assaults against elderly Asians in California, the community has felt a heightened sense of anxiety.

Children are not spared from the anti-Asian hate. According to Stop AAPI Hate Youth campaign, which interviewed nearly 1,000 Asian American youths in 2020, one in four youths reported experiencing some form of racism during the pandemic. As the schools reopen around the country in 2021, Asian American students are also noticeably missing from the classrooms, with many citing the fear of harassment and racism from other students being a main reason for staying remote.

But these public reports are only the tip of the iceberg. There are likely many more instances of verbal harassments, physical assaults, shunning and discrimination that are not reported by the media.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks and responds hate incidents against the Asian American and Pacific Islanders, 3,795 incidents were reported from March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021, and the number increased significantly from 3,795 to 6,603 during March 2021. Another study by California State University, San Bernardino, showed that while overall hate crimes in major U.S. cities dropped 6% in 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes surged to 145%.

While these numbers are staggering, they only represent a small fraction of the total number of hate incidents that actually occur, due to underreporting from language and cultural barriers. At the global level, anti-Asian racism is not only limited to the US, but has spread from England to Australia.

Why is this happening?

Among other racial stereotypes, Asian Americans face two significant ones: “perpetual foreigner” and “model minority”. The “perpetual foreigner” stereotype denies Asian Americans, regardless whether naturalized or native-born citizens (some have been here for generations), the American identity and treats them as perpetual foreigners - the “other”. COVID-19 has enabled the spread of racism and general xenophobia, which associated Asian Americans with the disease and blamed them for the pandemic woes.

Unfortunately, anti-Asian racism and using Asians as foreign scapegoats at tough times is nothing new. Blaming the Chinese for declining wages and economic troubles, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that prevented Asians from immigrating to the US or becoming citizens. After the attacks of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry (62% were U.S. citizens) were forcefully relocated and imprisoned in concentration camps, known as Japanese American Internment. In the aftermath of 9/11, South Asians, particularly Sikhs, were harassed and attacked as they were mistaken as Muslims. The list goes on.

Yet mainstream society often is not aware of this racism because Asian Americans are perceived as a “model minority” - the belief that Asian Americans are more successful economically and academically and therefore don’t face racism, despite evidence showing that Asian Americans have large disparities in income, education and immigration status. The “model minority” myth masks over racism against Asian Americans, renders Asian American invisible, and pits one minority community against other minority communities.

The reality is that all ethnic minorities continue to face structural racism and inequality. So what can we do?

Income inequality by race or ethnic group
Income inequality by race or ethnic group
Image: Pew Research Center analysis of US Census and American Community Survey data

What can we do?

First, we must raise awareness. We must recognize the issue and educate the public on anti-Asian racism.

In the past months, hundreds of Asian American business leaders, such as Eric Yuan, CEO and Founder of Zoom, Steve Chen, Cofounder of Youtube, and Sundar Pichai, CEO at Alphabet Inc, have signed and published an open pledge to draw attention to this issue and commit more than $10 million over the next year to combat anti-Asian hate. Asian American artists have created music videos and short films to promote racial unity, provide education and advocate actions.

For parents, talk to your children about racism and discrimination, understand and support them. For employers, according to Harvard Business Review, the foremost action employees need from company leadership is to acknowledge what is happening, and not being silent or side-stepping the issue. A direct acknowledgement from senior leaders goes a long way in making the Asian employees feel heard and supported.

Second, we must support communities. There are many ways of supporting the community in fighting anti-Asian racism, both at an individual and institutional levels. Organizations such as Hollaback! offers anti-harassment and bystander intervention trainings to make the community safer. Financial support keeps the community grow - whether grassroot, individual donations to help a particular cause or an individual, or philanthropic and corporate donations to support the community at-large.

Furthermore, Asian American community groups, such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), and The ACTION Project are also excellent places to get involved, either through sharing stories, volunteering, participating in media campaigns or making financial contributions.

Third, we must demand changes. Structural changes are needed to truly address the roots of the anti-Asian racism, and we have seen some positive movements. Both the US Senate and House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an anti-hate crimes bill to address hate crimes targeted at Asian Americans during the pandemic, which was signed into law by President Biden on May 20, 2021.

At the local level, California’s first attorney general, a Filipino American, vowed to make fighting anti-Asian crimes a top priority during his time in office. California legislators also approved $1.4 million in state funding to help combat anti-Asian violence and racism in February.

However, this is only the beginning, and there are large gaps to fill to improve community relations, establish better tracking and reporting systems, and build stronger civil rights protections.

Being a new father brings a new sense of urgency to stop racism and hate. Racism against Asian Americans is a serious issue that has long been overlooked. With the reawakened sense of solidarity and energy, I hope we can capture the opportunity to make substantive changes, so we can build a more inclusive and equitable society for children of all backgrounds.