Stephanie Yee, M.A., is currently pursuing her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She researches how discrimination and systemic oppression impacts the mental and physical well-being of people with multiple marginalized identities.
Addressing the Surge of Anti-Asian-American Violence Racist rhetoric has led to violence and trauma for Asian Americans.
Posted on Psychology Today Mar 24, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Our hearts weep as we read about yet another “seemingly unprovoked” violent and deadly attack against Asian American people. Atlanta shooting: 8 dead, most victims Asian. These murders came amid a horrific surge of Anti-Asian American violence in the United States since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While these numbers are rising and likely even higher than are being reported, prior to these very recent horrific murders in Atlanta, public response has not appeared to adequately match the gravity of this problem. One recent study found that over 40% of Americans self-reported that they had discriminated against people of Asian descent. The Pew Research Center surveyed over 9,000 US adults and found that since the pandemic began, about 3 in 10 Asian adults had experienced anti-Asian slurs or jokes — a number far greater than members of other racial groups at the same time. In addition to these covert acts of violence, there has been an increase in overt violent acts as well. The recent Atlanta shooting is simply one of an alarming number of violent attacks. Why is this happening? Factors That Lead to Anti-Asian Violence Reminiscent of the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Middle Eastern, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh people were attacked and discriminated against, people’s fears of the Coronavirus have fueled a racist scapegoating. The proliferation of attacks against Asian Americans is informed by the inaccurate perception that Asians and Asian Americans are somehow to blame for the pandemic. The racist and xenophobic rhetoric that was normalized by the former president is a major culprit of this disinformation. His constant references to COVID-19 as “the China virus” and promotion of paranoia about China fueled these flames. Asian Americans are often seen as perpetual foreigners in a form of stereotyping and discrimination that “others” them and presumes them to not have in-group status with other Americans. Other intersections of identity may be considered as well. Many victims of these violent attacks have been elderly people, and some evidence suggests that in the Chicago area, older Chinese Americans are more likely to experience discrimination than Chinese Americans of other age groups. Gender also appears to play a role in many of these attacks, as Asian women report hate incidents over 2 times more frequently than men. Asian women are hypersexualized in American culture, fetishized, and stereotyped as “submissive": This is a form of gendered racism, which is discrimination functioning at the intersection of gender and race. The Atlanta murderer denied any racial motivation and claimed his motive was to eliminate sexual temptation, however the fact that most of the victims were Asian women seems more than coincidental. Understanding How Discrimination Impacts Mental Health Minority Stress Theory is a theoretic framework used by social science researchers who study the impact of heterosexism and other forms of discrimination on the well-being of people with marginalized identities. This theory suggests that repeated experiences of discrimination and oppression creates a stressful social environment which results in higher rates of mental health problems among certain minority populations. More recently, scholars have referred to race-based traumatic stress to describe the traumatic response to racism and discrimination among some racial/ethnic minorities. In this line of research, instances of racial discrimination have been associated with elevated psychological symptoms such as depression, stress, and low self-esteem, as well as physical health outcomes such as high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease. Researchers from the University of Southern California recently conducted a nationally representative survey including approximately 8,500 American adults to assess attitudes and behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using data from this survey, one study examined outcomes among self-identified white Americans, Asian Americans, and Asian immigrants. It found that Asian Americans reported the highest levels of depression and anxiety compared to the other groups, and that Asian Americans and Asian Immigrants reported over twice as many experiences of COVID-19-related discrimination than white Americans. Another study found that Asian Americans who are low-income or immigrants were at greater risk of increased mental distress from COVID-19-associated discrimination. This may be due to having multiple marginalized identities that are impacted by interlocking systems of oppression such as racism, classism, and xenophobia. Other recent research found that among a sample of over 400 Asian American adults, anti-Asian American discrimination was associated with increased anxiety, depressive symptoms, and sleep difficulties. Steps to Fight the Violence There has already been collective effort put forth to combat this violence. First, a problem cannot be addressed until it is sufficiently identified. In early 2020, several Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Civil Rights Organizations launched the STOP AAPI HATE project to track incidents of violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. President Biden issued a memorandum condemning intolerance against Asian Americans, and Asian-American community leaders are demanding a more concrete response from the administration, including increased funding from the Justice Department for community engagement, reforms to hate-crime legislation, and culturally competent assistance for victims of hate crimes to report these incidents. Asian people tend to underutilize mental health services, and so there is a need for psychologists and other mental health professionals to put in a larger investment in mental health services that specifically target Asian-American populations. There is a need for increased culturally competent care for Asian Americans that takes into account the intergroup variation and rich diversity among Asian American and Pacific Islander people. Individually, we may also prioritize spreading awareness of this public health crisis and lend community support and allyship to Asian American people who are hurting right now. The Model Minority Myth is the false presumption that Asian Americans somehow are “better off” than other racial or ethnic minorities and do not experience racism or discrimination. I have wondered if this misconception has informed the underwhelming public response to this surge of violence. As allies to our Asian-American siblings, we must critically examine and unlearn our own biases, including this harmful belief. Asian people are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic like the rest of us, but they are also forced to contend with related stigma, violence, and discrimination as a result of racism and white supremacy which have poisoned our society. Stand in solidarity with our community and condemn violence in all of its forms. Resources