Racism Against Asia: Breaking Stereotypes and Silence – Harvard Health Blog
As in the rest of the country, on Wednesday, March 17, I woke up to the horrific news of the massive shooting that killed eight people in Atlanta. Six were Asian women, ranging in age from 44 to 74 years. I immediately collapsed. Lulu Wang, Chinese-American filmmaker and director Greetings, gave a voice to my pain on social media: “I know these women. To send children to school, to send money home. “
Actually, I experienced the situation deception for the entire last year. Over and above the unprecedented tensions that COVID-19 has placed on us all, Asian Americans like me have had to deal with discrimination, verbal assault, and physical violence. They have beaten us, they have beaten us, they have stabbed us, they have told us that the pandemic is our fault, we have brought this country and we should return to where we came from. Our weakest – women, young people and the elderly – are disproportionately focused.
Race trauma and fear in the news
The constant drumming of headlines and viral videos poses a great deal of trauma when they represent nonviolent violence against Asian Americans, even for those who have not been directly attacked. Fearing the safety of my parents, both of whom were 70 years old in Virginia, I called home last March to warn them not to go outside too much, to always go shopping in the daylight, to be careful. It broke my heart then to think of the deep belief they had in the goodness and choice of this country, which motivated their immigration about 50 years ago. And she broke up again two weeks ago when my mother told me that a teenager had caused her a racial uproar.
As the director of the MGH Center Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness for psychiatrists and nonprofit volunteers, I am well aware that Asian Americans faced mental health problems long before COVID-19. We’ve been stereotyping “Model Minority” since the 1960s: a uniformly successful group that keeps their mouths shut and doesn’t shake the boat. This stereotype intersects beautifully with cultural values that value stoicism and self-sacrifice, and stigmatizes anything that is perceived as shameful – including mental health struggles. They are Asian Americans two to three times less than whites seek mental health treatment and find that the services available are not helpful. Our research shows that students from the University of the Americas and the Pacific Islands (AAPI) are around half the probability white students make a psychiatric diagnosis such as anxiety or depression – probably because they have never seen a mental health professional – but are nearly 40% more likely to attempt suicide.
To this burden we now add racial trauma, a mental and emotional injury caused by racial discrimination. Psychologist Robert Carter has described that racial trauma makes the world feel less secure and that the event ends and remains in the psyche for a long time. Victims avoid anxiety, hyperactivity (a state of alertness), situations that remind them of the attack, poor sleep, mood swings, and yes, cheating. These symptoms post-traumatic stress disorder. Words can and can hurt us, against the rhyme of childhood, sometimes more than sticks and stones.
The weight of racism, past and present
Time and time again, the events of this pandemic have taken home the fact that having an exemplary minority is not enough – they have attacked AAPI doctors and nurses, as well as the patients they cared for. What I never learned, whether I was growing up from my parents or from a high school history curriculum, is that racism against Asia is not new; it is woven into the fabric of this country.
Looking back teaches us a lot. In the mid-1800s, Chinese workers feared harassment of jobs in front of Americans and the Chinese and Asians became ill as a “yellow risk” because of lust and treachery. In 1871, a mob of 500 people killed, killed and hanged 20 Chinese men in one of the deadliest lynching events in U.S. history in Los Angeles. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the only law that prohibited a particular ethnic or national group from emigrating to the U.S. and naturalizing as citizens. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to allow more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to enter internment camps – more than 60% of whom were U.S. citizens. The hatred we see now has an echo of these earlier choruses of Asians, sick invaders and perpetually disloyal foreigners.
Another view around the Model Minority myth
Now I see the Model Minority label in a different light. Who has accused Asian Americans of gaining a seemingly more positive reputation, given their widespread discrimination? But this stereotype is harmful and wrong. It hides the great inequalities and challenges that the rare AAPI community, which has the greatest income inequality of any race group in the U.S.. And it encourages politicians to put our problems aside. Most insidiously, it establishes a divisive contrast with other minorities, blaming them for their problems and perpetuating the fiction that structural racism does not exist. On top of all that, we now see how the Model Minority stereotype is reduced to this risk.
Will the racism we have experienced in this pandemic be a turning point in awakening the race in our community? Our Center can ensure that there is a new hunger among AAPI parents about education and resources to help them talk about race and racism with their children. More members of our community are organizing, becoming politically active, and talking about previously unreported hate events. It’s been a long time since we’ve broken our silence and spoken out against AAPI hatred, yes, but we also feel proud in solidarity with other marginalized groups against all forms of violence and oppression.