Anti-Asian racism: breaking through stereotypes and silence-Harvard Health Blog


Like the rest of the country, I woke up on Wednesday, March 17 and learned the terrible news of a mass shooting in Atlanta that killed 8 people. Six are Asian women, ranging in age from 44 to 74 years old. I immediately became numb.Lulu Wang, Chinese American film producer and director bid farewellExpressed my pain on social media: “I know these women. Those who work hard to send their children to school and send money home.”

The fact is that I have been in numbness For most of the past year. In addition to the unprecedented pressure COVID-19 has brought to all of us, Asian Americans like me have also had to face a surge of discrimination, verbal assault and physical violence. We were beaten, pushed, stabbed, spit, and told that the pandemic was our fault, we brought it to this country, and we should go back anywhere. Our most vulnerable groups (women, young people and the elderly) have been disproportionately attacked.

Racial trauma and fear in the news

The endless percussion of headlines and viral videos portrayed unprovoked violence against Asian Americans and caused alternative trauma even to those who were not directly attacked. Out of fear for the safety of my parents, they are both in Virginia at the age of 70. I called home in March last year to warn them not to go out too much, do not shop in the sun, and be extra careful. My heart was broken and I thought about their firm belief in the kindness and possibilities of this country, which prompted them to emigrate here about 50 years ago. Two weeks ago, when my mother told me that a teenager yelled at her, things broke out again.

As a psychiatrist and director of the MGH Intercultural Student Emotional Health Center, a non-profit organization run by volunteers, I know very well that Asian Americans have been addressing mental health issues long before COVID-19. Since the 1960s, we have been stereotyped as a “minority model”: a united and successful organization that is always vigilant and will not shake the boat. This stereotype intersects neatly with cultural values ​​of perseverance and self-sacrifice, and greatly slanders anything that is considered shameful, including mental health struggles.Asian American is Two to three times as much as white people Seek mental health treatment and are more likely to find that existing services are not helpful.Our research shows that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) college students are about Half chance For example, white students suffering from psychiatric diagnoses such as anxiety or depression—perhaps because they have never seen a mental health professional—but the likelihood of suicide increased by nearly 40%.

Now, we have added racial trauma to the racial burden, that is, the mental and emotional damage caused by discrimination based on race. As the psychologist Robert Carter described, racial trauma made the whole world less safe and remained lingering for a long time after the event. Victims report anxiety, hypervigilance (a state of increased alertness), and avoid situations that remind them of seizures, poor sleep, mood swings, and, yes, numbness.These symptoms reflect Post-traumatic stress disorder. Contrary to the rhythm of childhood, words can actually and do hurt us, sometimes even worse than sticks and stones.

The weight of racism, past and present

Time and time again, the events of this epidemic have driven people to realize that being a minority role model is not enough-AAPI doctors and nurses have even been beaten by the patients they care for. What I have never learned from my parents’ growing up or from high school history courses is that anti-Asian racism is nothing new. It is woven into the fabric of this country.

Looking back can teach us a lot. In the mid-1800s, the fear of Chinese workers working in the United States caused the Chinese and Asians to suffer persecution and sarcasm, which was called the “yellow peril”, illness, indecent, and treacherous. In 1871, in one of the deadliest criminal cases in American history, a mob of 500 people massacred in Los Angeles, dismembering and hanging 20 Chinese men. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is the only law that prohibits certain races or ethnicities from immigrating to the United States and being naturalized as citizens. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that forced more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans into detention camps, more than 60% of whom were American citizens. The hatred we see now echoes the disgust of these earlier Asians, who are sick aggressors and unfaithful, eternal foreigners.

Different views on ethnic minority myths

Now, I see the Model Minority label in a different way. Given the widespread discrimination they face, who can blame Asian Americans for their seemingly more positive reputation? But this stereotype is both harmful and wrong. It conceals the huge gaps and challenges faced by the extraordinary AAPI community, which is the country with the largest income gap of any ethnic group in the United States. It encourages policymakers to ignore our problems. The most insidious thing is that it has formed disagreements with other minorities, blamed them for their problems, and perpetuated the hypothesis that this structural racism does not exist. Most importantly, we are now seeing how quickly the prototype of the “minority model” has returned to the “yellow danger”.

Will the racism we experience in this pandemic be a turning point in the racial awakening of our community? Our center can prove the new desire of AAPI parents for education and resources, and can help them talk about race and racial discrimination with their children. More and more members in our community are organizing, becoming politically active, and shouting out hate incidents that have never been reported before. A long time ago, we broke our silence and spoke out against the hatred of AAPI, but at the same time, we also united with other marginalized groups and resolutely opposed all forms of violence and oppression.


Dr. Chen wants to admit Ian Shin, master, master, doctorate, An assistant professor at the University of Michigan, contributed historical background to this article.


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