In the past year, violent Asian hate crimes rose 1900% percent, culminating in the recent shooting of three Asian-owned massage parlors in Atlanta. This atrocity, along with many others, is a reminder of the violence that has been harnessed against Asian Americans for years. So, what can you do to get educated, give back, and advocate for change?
To begin, let’s dive into the context of Asian attacks in past years, its enduring history in America, and the involvement of the entertainment industry in the fight for diversity and representation. At the end of this article are various resources and suggestions on how you can support the #StopAsianHate movement in genuine and effective ways.
The Rise of Hate Crimes in the COVID-19 Era
Racist attacks against Asian Americans rose under the Trump Administration, an era that marked the resurgence of the KKK and White Nationalism. No less than a day after the election, a close family member of mine was even told to “go back to her own country” or else the perpetrator would sexually assault her. While shocking, this experience is not unheard of, with many individuals becoming more comfortable expressing their racist opinions in this new political era.
However, when COVID-19 hit, the attacks grew worse, and markedly, more physical. Trump labeled the virus the “Kung Flu” and the “China Virus,” promptly labeling China as enemy number one. Of course, this reflected back on Asians as a whole and Asian Americans – a group that is commonly seen as a monolithic. And of course, these words did not remain just words; they translated into violence.
In recent months, violent hate crimes against Asian Americans, notably elders, began to increase. In just February, nearly two dozen attacks against Asian elders were reported in the Bay Area, consisting of various robberies and assaults. An 85-year-old Thai American man was even killed in San Francisco, compelling younger generations to rally together to protect their elders.
For example, in Oakland, an organization called Compassion in Oakland was erected for volunteers interested in chaperoning Asian elders on their daily activities, and countless GoFundMe’s were established to help victims of hate crimes. However, nationwide support and outrage did not arrive until the Atlanta massage parlor shootings, in which a 21-year-old White man killed eight individuals, six of whom were Asian women. The senseless tragedy punctuated the pain that the community had been feeling for a long time, and is still being grieved today.
These atrocities are horrific and shocking. However, it’s vital to remember that Anti-Asian racism has always existed in America. This xenophobia isn’t new. It’s important to ask why Asian bodies are considered disposable – and acknowledge attackers’ intentions in targeting elders, who are highly respected in Asian Culture. The targeting of Asian massage parlors is not incidental either, with Asian women typically reduced to sexual roles in film and media, meant to “belong” to White men and satisfy their desires. These are all intentional, premeditated acts of violence built on a history of perpetuated beliefs about the Asian community. In fact, The Chinese Exclusion Act, erected in 1882 in order to curb the arrival of Chinese immigrants, is still the first and only law banning the immigration of a specific ethnic group.
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There are too many intersectional issues to cover in such a short article – but in essence, it would be a mistake to assume that this tragedy happened because of one, unhinged individual who simply has untreated mental conditions. Even if the shooter continues to assert that his motive was due to sexual addiction, it is not the responsibility of Asians to relieve others of their desires, guilt, or personal issues. As writer and comedian Jenny Yang tweeted, we should call it for what it is: “8 Asian Women Slain in Mass Shooting Hate Crime by a White Terrorist,” in a country where racism is a part of its past, present, and unfortunately, future.
Asians in Hollywood – History & Recent Successes
You may ask yourself – but aren’t things getting better for Asians, with more representation in the media? Just last week, Korean American Steven Yeun became the first Asian American actor to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Lead Acting category, with Chloé Zhao becoming the first Asian woman to be nominated as Best Director. Even in the Music industry, where Filipino American Olivia Rodrigo’s song ‘Driver’s License’ has dominated the charts, it seems like Asian Americans are thriving everywhere.
And the answer is yes, there have been huge strides in the diversity and representation of Asian Americans as of late – with Disney’s first South Asian princess in ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ and the success of ‘Parasite’ and ‘The Farewell’ last year. But what does this mean? In honesty, as an Asian American, it’s difficult to reconcile these successes with the ongoing violent attacks. Both are real and both are happening under the same roof. It’s normal to ask oneself: how is this possible?
Do the Oscars nominations represent actual change, or are they empty gestures – a one-time occurrence that will be gone come next year? These are some of the troubling questions we have to ask the entertainment industry, even amidst celebrations of diversity. When it comes down to it, Anti-Asian racism has run rampant in Hollywood, in a disappointing history filled with discrimination and stereotypes. Can we trust this system to suddenly now uplift Asian voices?
In the end, there isn’t really a clear answer. However, when it comes down to it, it’s important to celebrate our successes and use them to channel positive energy. Amplifying Asian stories and voices is crucial because media reaches audiences all around the world and can be a way for us to actively deconstruct stigmas and stereotypes. We need to continue emboldening Asian storytellers in the film industry, who will ultimately be able to advocate for Asian struggles as their reach expands. More than that, the Asian community deserves to celebrate Asian joy and not be burdened with trauma and pain.
Resources to Get Educated and Give Back to Destroy Anti-Asian Racism
So, what can we all do to support the #StopAsianHate movement? Well, it begins with understanding that support goes deeper than just liking and sharing posts on Instagram. While these actions are positive and well-meaning, they are very surface level and can easily fall into “performative activism,” which on one hand simply is not as effective and on the other, ingenuine. Are you sharing information and resources to help others – or is it a convenient way to relieve the guilt you may feel over these atrocities?
It’s easy to feel like you are “doing enough” by sharing a post, but often, our social media circles are already filled with people who already think the same things. Because of this, our efforts may not be doing as much work as we think. Take some time to introspect and really evaluate what your intentions are, though well-meaning, and how your energy can be redirected towards more effectual change.
In essence, make sure you are taking a step further from performative activism and actively combatting Anti-Asian racism. That means educating yourself on the history of systemic racism and the struggles that these communities face, donating to or getting familiar with organizations, supporting APAA owned businesses, or simply being vigilant about racism in everyday life and refusing to be a silent bystander. Anti-Asian racism is not new; it exists in our tv shows and dates back to high school stereotypes and schoolyard jabs. You may never be in a violent, dangerous situation as with the recent hate crimes, but you will definitely witness these smaller transgressions in everyday life.
Some organizations you can check out to support are Asian Mental Health Collective, Stop AAPI Hate, Gold House, and Hate is a Virus. If you are looking for tangible ways to donate to the cause, this Victims and Survivors Fund is collecting donations for distribution amongst Bay Area victims, and this GoFundMe landing page for #StopAsianHate compiles many fundraisers set up by families and loved ones.
Lastly, in times like these, it’s key to remember that support across all POC groups is important. Often in America, minority groups are pitted against each other, which only serves to perpetuate the oppression of their communities. For example, one of the biggest Asian stereotypes is the “model minority” myth, which separates the Asian American community from others by elevating Asians’ proximity to Whiteness. Ultimately, there is no need to compare Asian struggles with those of other minority groups, or vice versa, since we are all victims of the same system. Our pain is interwoven and we need to support one another – whether that be through #StopAsianHate or #BlackLivesMatter. But again, let’s put in the work and transcend the hashtag.
By Lana Nguyen
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Lana Nguyen is a writer and filmmaker currently pursuing a BFA in Film Production at USC. Her love for film stems from the belief that empathetic and humanistic stories can help enact cultural change, and is excited to review such releases in film and media. As a young Vietnamese American and Jon M. Chu scholar at USC, she is passionate about diversity and representation in film and hopes to contribute thoughtful and progressive commentary on these issues, aligning with Hollywood Insider’s mission to provide impactful and meaningful content.