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What Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Experience Today

Three people reflect on the pain and damage of AAPI hate.

Key points

  • AAPI citizens and immigrants suffer violence and hatred at an alarming rate.
  • It's important for everyone, regardless of background, to work towards being a good ally.
  • BIPOC communities must unite to display strength and support in numbers to promote sustainable reduction of racist hate and violence.
RODNAE Productions/Pexels
Source: RODNAE Productions/Pexels

This post was written by Erica D. Marshall Lee, Ph.D., Shujing Zhang, M.S.Ed., M.Phil.Ed., and Ginny Chan, Ph.D., on behalf of the Atlanta Behavioral Health Advocates.

I am not AAPI (Asian American and/or Pacific Islander), and I do not have the right to write or speak as though I have the insight or awareness to do so. However, the people that I love are AAPI, and I am angry. I am disgusted. I am sad. I am embarrassed but not surprised or shocked.

After all, the people in our country have been minimizing, excusing, and ignoring hate, violence, intolerance, and uncivilized behavior for over 400 years. It is draining to be reminded of how far we have come only to observe how little true progress we have made. Do not be fooled: We have not arrived at a place of acceptance, only tolerance, and that, my friends, is tenuous at best.

My family, friends, and colleagues are AAPI, and I have witnessed firsthand the countless microaggressions they experience daily. My husband is Chinese Malaysian; he is my world, and when he hurts, I do as well. People have called him Bruce Lee, asked me if he speaks English, and of course, asked if we want separate checks when we go out to eat.

Being a better ally

Prior to dating and subsequently marrying my husband, I considered myself to be "woke.” I was so wrong. I was seeing racism and pain through my lens as an African-descended woman. I was ignoring many of the significant intersectionality upon which racism and bigotry are directed.

Pamela Hayes (1996, 2008) developed the "ADDRESSING" model to assist psychologists in being mindful of 10 cultural considerations when working with their clients. Obviously, 10 factors are not a comprehensive list; however, they cause us to begin thinking outside ourselves and consider others’ perspectives. ADDRESSING is an acronym for Age (and generational influences), Developmental and acquired Disabilities, Religion and spiritual identity, Ethnicity and racial identity, Socioeconomic status, Sexual orientation, Indigenous heritage, National origin, and Gender.

I realized then and now that I need to be a better ally. We fool ourselves into thinking that only non-BIPOC need to be allies, but that is a falsehood. BIPOC communities need to unite, support, and show up for one another. But this is not my story. This story belongs to my friends and colleagues, who share their journeys below.

A need for solidarity

As a Chinese-descended woman living in this country, I have always thought that I was fully aware of how my distinct differences in appearance could bring me implicit or explicit racially charged comments, discriminations, and microaggressions, as they have inevitably become part of my lived experience as a member of the AAPI community. People have asked me if I have an English name with the assumption that my Chinese name was too difficult to pronounce, asked me where I come from and when I will go back, and told me that they like "my food," i.e., Chinese food.

However, the global pandemic made me quickly realize that I had no idea how vulnerable it is to be a Chinese immigrant, an AAPI, and a BIPOC in this country. Hatred and atrocity stormed in, brutally flooding over humanity and morality, and brought an alarmingly high prevalence of hate crimes against AAPI communities. Based on the Stop AAPI Hate project, the reported cases of attacks against Asians and Asian Americans have risen by 900 percent just in New York City since the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

However, this was not the entire disturbing situation happening in this country. Innocent lives of not only Asian-descended but also African-descended individuals were cruelly taken away, and people responded by saying the murderers were “having a bad day.” It is a bad day to be BIPOC every day in a non-BIPOC-privileged society! Like Dr. Lee, I realized that the BIPOC communities need to be in solidarity because this is not my story, this is our story.

The importance of sharing stories

“I just got sprayed by an air freshener... He said, 'You’re dirty.'”

I received this text from a dear friend in March 2021, right in the middle of what felt like the crescendo of an escalating wave of anti-Asian hate acts over the past year. I felt sick to my stomach that this happened to her, disgust and anger at the climate that abetted blatant acts of racist hate, and compassion for all who look like me and who have experienced hate.

As a psychologist trying to grapple with anti-Asian hate, the concepts of dehumanization and racism come to mind (see the work of Nick Haslam and Nour Kteily and their colleagues). APA (2020) explains dehumanization as a “practice that reduce[s] human beings to the level of… nonhuman animals, especially by denying them autonomy, individuality, and a sense of dignity.” A study found that blatant dehumanization (e.g., being “less evolved and civilized”) was predictive of prejudicial attitudes and behaviors supporting aggressive acts towards target groups (Kteily et al., 2015).

From March 2020 to March 2021, 3,943 AAPI women have reported racist and discriminatory incidents; women were 2.2 times more likely than men to experience these hateful acts (Pillay et al., 2021). One of them was my friend. I think about these women and wonder what their lives were and how they have since changed. I think about the women killed in the March 16 Atlanta shootings and how their lives and the lives of those who knew them have changed.

My two wonderful colleagues have highlighted the importance of sharing stories above. Since the summer of 2020, I have been more actively involved in diversity outreach and awareness initiatives. Through these conversations and learning from the BIPOC community, I have seen, and felt viscerally, the impact of providing spaces and a platform to those who were previously silenced or invisible. These are our stories.

References

APA (2020). Dehumanization. In APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved June 9, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/dehumanization

Hayes, P. (1996). Addressing the complexities of culture and gender in counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 74, 332–338.

Hays, P.A. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis, and therapy. Washington DC: APA

Kteily, N., Bruneau, E., Waytz, A., & Cotterill, S. (2015). The ascent of man: Theoretical and empirical evidence for blatant dehumanization. Journal of personality and social psychology, 109, 901-931. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000048

Pillay, D., Yellow Horse, A. J., & Jeung, R. (2021). The Rising Tide of Violence and Discrimination Against Asian American and Pacific Islander Women and Girls. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://stopaapihate.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Stop-AAPI-Hate_NAPA…

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