The Asian Reporter, V30, #05 (April 6, 2020), page 11.
Asian Americans use social media to mobilize
By Terry Tang
The Associated Press
Kyle Navarro was kneeling down to unlock his bicycle when he
noticed an older white man staring at him. Navarro, who is
Filipino, tried to ignore him, but that soon became impossible.
The man walked by, looked back, and called Navarro a racial
slur. He "spat in my direction, and kept walking," Navarro said.
Navarro, a school nurse in San Francisco, already had anxiety
about racism related to the coronavirus, which emerged in China
and has Asian people facing unfounded blame and attacks as it
has spread worldwide. Now, he was outraged.
"My first instinct was to yell back at him in anger. But,
after taking a breath, I realized that would have put me in
danger," Navarro said.
Instead, he took to Twitter to turn the ugly moment into an
opportunity for a conversation about racism, generating
thousands of sympathetic comments.
Asian Americans are using social media to organize and fight
back against racially motivated attacks during the pandemic,
which the FBI predicts will increase as infections grow. A
string of racist run-ins in the last two weeks has given rise to
hashtags — #WashTheHate, #RacismIsAVirus, #IAmNotCOVID19 — and
online forums to report incidents. Critics say President Donald
Trump made things worse by calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus."
For a group with a history of being scapegoated — from
Japanese Americans detained during World War II to a
Chinese-American man killed by autoworkers angry about Japanese
competition in the ’80s — there’s urgency to drown out both
bigotry and apathy.
To that end, the California-based groups Chinese for
Affirmative Action and the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy
Council set up a hate reporting center last month. New York’s
attorney general also launched a hotline.
"We kind of just knew from history this was going to
snowball," said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese
for Affirmative Action. "With the rising stress and anxiety, we
knew we’d see a rise in hate incidents."
The center has fielded more than 1,000 reports from across
the U.S., ranging from people spitting to throwing bottles from
cars. An FBI report distributed to local law enforcement
predicts the attacks will surge and pointed to the stabbing of
an Asian-American man and his two children at a Sam’s Club in
Texas last month, ABC News reported. According to the report,
the 19-year-old suspect said he thought they were "infecting
people." The victims have recovered.
Amid the explosive climate, former Democratic presidential
candidate Andrew Yang drew backlash for urging fellow Asian
Americans to display more "American-ness." In a Washington
Post editorial, he called on them to avoid confrontation and
do acts of goodwill like volunteering and helping neighbors.
"Being ‘the good Asian’ has not fared well for Asian
Americans," Choi said. "We don’t have to prove our worth and
that we belong, that we’re exceptional. And we certainly don’t
have to believe that this is something that we should ignore."
Yang’s spokesman declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Trump has walked back on calling COVID-19 the
Chinese virus, saying at a media briefing and on Twitter last
week that Asian Americans should not be blamed "in any way,
shape, or form."
Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House worry the damage has
been done and have introduced resolutions to condemn anti-Asian
"His followers continue to double-down on that term," said
U.S. representative Judy Chu of California, chairwoman of the
Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Some of the reports received by the advocacy groups describe
harassment that appears to parrot Trump, Choi said.
A White House spokesman declined to comment and referred to
Trump’s remarks at the March 23 briefing.
The president’s words also drew some Asian Americans in
entertainment and fashion to the #WashTheHate social-media
campaign. Celia Au, star of the Netflix show "Wu Assassins," and
others posted videos showing them washing their hands and
talking about the effect of racism.
"It comes from the top down at the end of the day," Au said.
"Our top leader is not doing the job, so it’s time for us to
People turning against Asian Americans in an uncertain time
and sputtering economy echoes the climate in 1982, when Vincent
Chin was killed in Detroit as laid-off autoworkers blamed a
recession on Japanese competition.
"At that time, I knew I had to watch out and be careful — who
I was around, how they looked at me," said Helen Zia, a
Chinese-American author and journalist from Oakland, California,
who lived in Detroit at the time. "I think we’re in that stage
Two white autoworkers beat Chin to death with a bat outside a
strip club during his bachelor party simply because they thought
he was Japanese. The 27-year-old’s attackers were convicted of
manslaughter and received only three years of probation.
Zia said she and others contacted advocacy groups, churches,
and Chinese-language media about protesting the sentence.
Relying only on mail and telephones, they found allies in the
NAACP and Anti-Defamation League and launched demonstrations
"It was a watershed moment," Zia said. "We were drowning, and
we had to organize to change what we saw going on around us."
Thanks to social media, younger generations of Asian
Americans and Pacific Islanders are speaking up during what
could be another seminal moment. Choi hopes they will rally
non-Asians to see the wave of racist attacks in the COVID-19 era
as their issue, too. Groups like the NAACP and Council on
American-Islamic Relations have condemned anti-Asian rhetoric.
With attacks escalating, Zia can’t help but fear the pandemic
could result in another tragedy like Chin’s death.
"The level of anger ... it’s already here," Zia said. "For
Asian Americans, there’s the virus of COVID-19 and there’s the
virus of hate. The hate virus is also going to get much worse."
Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated
Press’ Race and Ethnicity team.