It’s been two weeks since the shootings in Atlanta that killed 8 people, including 6 Asian-American women, that sparked global outrage and support for Asian communities. But the fight against racism towards Asians is far from over.
The shooting has been framed as the tragic climax of growing hostility and anti-Asian sentiment following 2020, which saw a spike in anti-Asian racism due to the coronavirus.
In the days following, social media flooded with support for Asian communities worldwide, with individuals, creators, and companies alike taking a stand against anti-Asian racism.
But for those in Asian diasporic communities, like myself, this recent tragedy has been a painful realisation of just how normalised racism towards Asians has been for a very long time.
On TikTok alone, video after video played on my For You Page of young Asian people from Western countries sharing sadly relatable stories growing up being the target of racial slurs, having people pull the corners of their eyes while looking at you, and being the object of fetishisation.
These videos have brought up my own early experiences of anxiety and fear due to an awareness of anti-Asian racism. One of my earliest negative experiences of being Asian in Australia was in primary school. A girl picked up my drink bottle, read the name tag on it, and said, “What kind of last name is that?”. While this encounter might seem mild in comparison, it had a lasting impression on how I interact with the world, particularly non-Asian people. To this day, I still spell out my last name — despite being asked to or not— to avoid yet another awkward exchange.
When I was about 8-years-old, I can recall another memory that has stuck with me as I witnessed my mom bear the brunt of someone’s road rage. At a standstill, head-to-head with another car on a narrow street, a woman shouted at my mum, “Go back to your f*cking country, you f*cking bitch,” before driving away.
Unfortunately, my experiences, and the experiences of so many other Asian people, are not unique in the slightest. Rather, they are the norm, and will continue to be until we actively acknowledge the name-calling, coronavirus “jokes”, and violence against Asians for what they are— racism.
There is a shared fatigue amongst the Asian community having experienced normalised racism without seeing any consequences for perpetrators while having our experiences invalidated for years. In fact, some older generations of Asian people in Western countries are struggling to identify with the outpouring of international support for Asian communities after enduring racism for so long to the point of desensitisation.
Other members of the Asian community still feel hopeless and skeptical of change, calling out what they see as performance activism.
Put simply, performance activism is going through all the motions to appear devoted to a social cause, only to earn the social capital of seeming “woke.” John Metta writes for Al Jazeera, “Those engaged in performative activism are damaging those causes partly because their actions are often unhelpful and meaningless.”
As TikTok user @rotinirat explains, “it is simply not enough to just repost that aesthetically pleasing infographic about Asian American hate to your Instagram story. You also have to stop being racist”.
So, what can we do to help put a stop to anti-Asian racism?
Call out racist comments
Call out the people around you who make racially inappropriate jokes about Asians. This includes your family, friends, work colleagues, and strangers. Let them know that their comments are unacceptable and play a direct part in perpetuating racism.
Understand the history
Racism against Asians dates back much further beyond coronavirus, and is linked to the colonisation of Asian countries throughout history. Many Western countries also have a history of Asian migration bans, such as the White Australia Policy that stood through much of the 20th century, the American Chinese Exclusion Act 1882, and the Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act 1823.
Educating yourself about the model minority myth will also help you dismantle stereotypes you may hold sub-consciously about Asians. This discourse has contributed to the suppression of Asian activism and downplayed the significance of racism towards Asians.
Talk to your Asian friends about their experiences
If you are not Asian, reach out to an Asian friend and ask them about their experience being Asian in a Western country. Our stories are rich and diverse, and hearing them from people you know will help you to empathise with us and be a better ally.
Autobiographies that discuss the Asian diasporic experience: Minor Feelings: A Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition by Cathy Park Hong, The Happiest Refugee by Ahn Do, The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui, One Bright Moon by Andrew Kwong