Anti-Asian Hate: How A Movement Aims to Break the Bystander Effect

People-powered movement, Hollaback! has been offering free training since 2020 as anti-Asian hate crimes surge.

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Anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise since the start of the pandemic.
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“Seventy-nine percent of people say that it improves a situation when someone intervenes to stop harassment, but only 25 percent say that such helpful interventions are made – that is the gap that Hollaback! wants to close” – That is how senior trainer Dax Valdes started a 2,900 participant-strong bystander awareness training session, amidst the surge of hate crimes against Asians in US.

New York City-based global people-powered movement, Hollaback!’s mission is to empower individuals with strategies to effectively intervene when people witness anti-Asian or xenophobic harassment around them.

The training involves Hollaback!’s 5Ds – Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct – that can be used by a bystander to step in. Hollaback! has been providing bystander training since 2012, and expanded it to address rising anti-Asian-American hate in 2020, in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

A Surge in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

With the recent spate of violent and deadly attacks on Asians in numerous US cities, 45,000 people registered for Hollaback!’s training in the just the last week of March 2021.

What began in 2005 with a focus on gender-based street harassment expanded over the years to address harassment across all spaces — including online, workplace, transportation, protests. It also examines and addresses harassment basis identities — including women, LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous, people of colour, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and immigrants.

Executive Director & Founder Emily May talks about adapting their bystander intervention trainings to address the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in US, “We tweaked it. A lot of what was important to adjust about the training was helping understand what Asian American hate looks like. A lot of people in US think that anti-Asian American is a new thing. What we know is that it is as old as the founding of our country.”

Besides a large number of people enrolling for the training as they feel personally at risk of being subjected to hate, and have friends and family who are at risk, an even larger number who are not directly impacted by the hate, but believe that no one should be treated this way have signed up for it – wanting to stand up for people in their communities by becoming better bystanders.

Right now, there are about 18 million AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) adult residents in the US.

New data from a joint survey of Survey Monkey and AAPI Data indicates a spike in discrimination reported by Asian Americans. The online poll was conducted between 18 and 26 March 2021 with a national sample of 16,336 adults, reflecting the demographic composition of US.

The survey shows that 10% percent of AAPI adults have experienced hate crimes and hate incidents in 2021 – higher than the US average of 6 percent, while 12 percent of Asian Americans and 10 percent of Pacific Islanders experienced hate incidents in 2020, compared to the US average of 8 percent.

All communities in the survey answered that race relations in US are getting worse, with 56% Asian Americans in agreement.

Other acts of racial discrimination also show raised levels among AAPI. Having people ask ‘where are you from, assuming they are not from the US’ was much higher for Asian Americans (64%) and Pacific Islanders (51%) than the national average (20%). Being ‘encouraged to Americanize or Whiten one’s name’ was also significantly higher for Pacific Islanders (27%) and Asian Americans (20%) than the national average (7%). Pacific Islanders (41%) and Asian Americans (31%) are also more likely than the national average (22%) to have people ‘intentionally mispronounce’ their names.

A Deep-Rooted Problem

Founder and Director Karthick Ramakrishnan of AAPI Data and Senior Researcher Janelle Wong, concurred in their analysis that the reported hate against AAPI community is just the “tip of the iceberg”. Estimates of AAPI hate incidents are far more extensive than reported. One of every four Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are affected overall. Nearly one-third (31%) of Asian Americans worry often about being the victim of hate crimes or incidents. Just 30% of Asians would be ‘very comfortable’ reporting a hate crime to law enforcement, the lowest of any group.”

Along with all kinds of micro-aggressions, AAPIs continue to face violent beatings, lethal shootings, and property damage, and endure racial slurs such as: ‘carriers of disease’, ‘you’re the infection’, ‘go home’, ‘we don’t want you here’, ‘go back to China’, ‘hope you don’t have COVID’, among others.

More Asian parents are instructing their children to follow the routine of ‘no eye contact, head down, do what you are doing’ to avert physical harm.

Anti-Asian discrimination has gone unacknowledged over the years. The ‘model minority’ image has contributed to making discrimination invisible — the belief that Asians are educated, affluent doctors, engineers, and scientists, perpetrates the stereotype that they are not discriminated against.

Need for Govt Intervention

Chairperson of the AAPI Victory Fund, Shekhar Narsimhan has been a loud proponent of Asian representation in Biden’s administration. He acknowledges that even though currently South Asians might not be feeling as threatened as East Asians, the AAPI hate is more than a century old.

“Remember the first person killed in America after 9/11 was a Sikh – bigotry and ignorance go hand in hand. You are not immune because you don’t look a certain way. We have to connect the dots and remember that there was 9/11, attacks at Hindu temples, Muslim ban, Islamophobia, attacks on Mexicans, attacks on synagogues, and now attacks on Asians – this has been going on for 100 years. This is not acceptable,” he says.

Narsimhan highlighted the critical need to engage with the administration to have the AAPI voice heard, “The President and VP were to be in Atlanta. The thought was, ‘Should we rejigger that trip after the shootings at the spas?’ At that time there was this question of how do we know it is an AAPI hate crime, as it is defined differently in law versus what people see and perceive. He (shooter) went to the spas, killed Asian women – what do you think he was after? It is obvious. Next day they rejigger their trip – they cancel the original rally and then speak about AAPI. So we have to be seen and heard.”

US Senator Tammy Duckworth too, spoke strongly in support of Asian Americans, “The AAPI community has endured a difficult, heart-wrenching year. We were the target of hateful, offensive rhetoric from the previous President. We experienced a spike in hate crimes, violent assaults and discrimination. And we are still mourning a mass shooting where members of our community were targeted. There is no doubt that our community is still at risk. I applaud President Biden for recognising our community’s pain and taking concrete actions to protect AAPI individuals from violence and root out anti-Asian bias while also supporting the victims of hate crimes.”

Narsimhan has been pushing to have a designated point person in the government and his efforts are moving things in the right direction, since Senator Duckworth said, “You have to listen to our (AAPI) community, there will be somebody very senior who will communicate with us, be our communication person, to have our voice, AAPI voice, heard in the administration.”

President Joe Biden will expand the range of the White House initiative on AAPIs. US Justice Department will also establish a programme to respond to anti-Asian violence including an online tool to study and share data about national hate crimes, as well as new training for law enforcement agencies to encourage precise reporting of hate crimes.

(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She tweets @SsavitaPatel. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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