How to Be an Ally to the Asian American Community

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Are you outraged by the recent surge of anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the country? Here's what you can do to help.

As videos of horrific attacks targeting Asian American elders permeate the news and social media, it has brought much-needed attention to the rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hate, fed by the stigmatizing language like “China virus” and “kung flu” used repeatedly by U.S. government leaders since March 2020, has not subsided over time. Eighty-four-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee of San Francisco died of his injuries after being violently shoved to the ground on January 28. His attack is part of a disturbing pattern of crimes against Asian Americans, who have been assaulted, spat on, slashed, robbed, and more. Nearly 3,000 incidents were recorded in the United States between March and December 2020 by Stop AAPI Hate, a national reporting center that tracks these incidents of hate and discrimination. It’s clear that something more needs to be done…but what?

“One way we can help combat anti-Asian racism is educating our family, friends, neighbors, and community members to know that anti-Asian rhetoric is harmful,” says Linda Ng, national president of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. “The way we talk about COVID-19, its origins, who can be susceptible to it, who’s fighting it on the front lines, and the vaccine need to be anti-xenophobic.”

Ng believes that when government officials and community leaders referred to the virus by stigmatizing names, it fueled hate crimes and xenophobia against the Asian community. Many took this as a call to action that manifested itself as bullying, targeting, and visibly shunning anyone who looked Asian. “By not using this language,” she adds, “we acknowledge that words have power, and we’re choosing not to indirectly harm others.” But that’s just the first step in combating the problem. Here’s how you can become a true ally to the Asian American community.

Listen, believe, validate, and help report incidents

Being a good ally requires listening with empathy and compassion. This may seem simple, but it’s essential. Check in with Asian American friends, colleagues, and neighbors to offer support. If they are comfortable enough sharing their experiences of racism with you, it means you have gained a level of trust. Build on it by validating their injustice and pain, and offer to help report incidents, if necessary. One good resource: Stop AAPI Hate, where you can report incidents of microaggressions, bullying, harassment, hate speech, or violence against Asian American Pacific Islanders.

Avoid microaggressions and victim-blaming

When it comes to dealing with racist incidents, many may fall into the trap of perpetrating microaggressions and victim-blaming. Facing the ugliness of racism is difficult, and it is easy to fall into denial, or become defensive and deflect. Thoughts such as, “Why were they out there by themselves in the first place?” or “They should leave this country for their own good,” and also, “Other communities have it worse than Asian Americans,” are all examples of defensive deflection. The inclination to silver-line racist incidents or try to explain them as something other than what they are is harmful and should be avoided if you want to be a supportive ally.

Speak out in solidarity

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), was running errands when she heard someone express anti-Asian sentiments. Choimorrow was disappointed that no one else in the store spoke up, which compelled her to step forward. “I felt very vulnerable standing up against hate aimed at people who look like me, but I felt that I had to,” she shares. “I wish someone had stood up with me. But no one did.”

Racism is not just a problem for Asian people or Black people, nor is it unique to the immigrant experience. The weight of reform for justice and equity should not lay solely on those who experience everyday racism and discrimination. We must all use our voices to speak out in solidarity and to organize for a more equitable future.

Take bystander intervention training

Most of us are wired to avoid conflict. Anxiety and fear are natural reactions when confronted with racist behavior, even as a bystander. Taking bystander intervention training can prepare us to react safely and in a supportive manner if we witness bias and harassment. Hollaback! offers free trainings online based on its program of 5Ds: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct. OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates also offers virtual, free situational awareness workshops. You’ll also want to check out these 14 small ways you can fight racism every day.

Donate to support the Asian American community

Another key way to support Asian Americans during this time of anti-Asian hate is by donating. Consider these national organizations that support the community:

There are also many worthy regional initiatives, including several Chinatown-specific organizations, like New York’s Send Chinatown Love, as well as GoFundMe campaigns that directly benefit victims of anti-Asian hate.

Support Asian-owned businesses

Look around your neighborhood. Chances are, small Asian-owned local businesses are some of the hardest-hit in the community. Many restaurants, nail salons, and other service-orientated businesses that were forced to close or limit their business capacity during the pandemic suffered through added hardships of harassment, shattered windows, and racist vandalism. Support Asian-owned businesses often, and buy directly from these businesses instead of through third-party services whenever possible to guarantee that the proceeds actually go to the business owners and their employees.

RELATED: 18 Things You Can Still Do to Support Your Favorite Small Businesses

Learn about the Asian American experience

If your perception of the Asian American community is based primarily on assumptions and media representation, make an effort to consume more accurate representation, with work created by Asian Americans.

Some books to start with include Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People by Helen Zia, China Boy by Gus Lee, All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong. Please make the important distinction between works by Asian American writers versus translated works by Asian writers from abroad.

In film, check out this year’s hit, the award-winning Minari, based on writer and director Lee Isaac Chung’s own life on a farm in 1980s Arkansas; it’s as American a story as they come. Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe, written by Ali Wong and Randall Park, and Never Have I Ever, a series created by Mindy Kaling, offer some lighthearted, fictional but authentically refreshing representation on the Asian American experience. And you also shouldn’t miss the superbly educational PBS documentary Asian Americans.

If podcasts are more your style, Still Processing features two fascinating episodes on anti-Asian racism. On This American Life, watch the episode about writer and director Lulu Yang, whose story was later made into the excellent film The Farewell, a poignant and intimate portrait of an Asian American woman and her Chinese family. Ready for edgier, more unfiltered content on what’s happening in Asian America? Check out They Call Us Bruce by hosts Jeff Yang and Phil Yu.

RELATED: My Immigrant Family Took on White-Sounding Names—Here’s Why That’s a Problem

A time to unite against hate

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not only an instrumental part of American history, economy, and culture—they are also the fastest-growing racial group in the country. The time is long overdue to free these communities from the perpetual foreigner image and model minority myth that have plagued them unfairly for far too long. If we all stand together and become allies in the movement toward equality, things can finally change.

For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.

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Michelle Yang
Michelle Yang, MBA, is on a personal mission to show the world one can live well with bipolar disorder. Tired of the stigma, she is empowered to humanize and normalize mental health illnesses as just another part of the human condition. She recently quit her coveted corporate job to write and advocate for mental health wellness. Michelle has a memoir-in-progress and her articles have been featured on InStyle, HuffPost, and HelloGiggles. Yang writes about how Asian American identity, family, parenting, and friendship intertwine with living well with bipolar disorder on her blog, which garners thousands of views per month.