Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are fighting two pandemics: COVID and violent anti-Asian hate. While COVID is subsiding, hate is growing. Among my AAPI friends, safety and fear are at the top of every conversation. When my teenage son leaves the house, I now have a new fear: the killings of eight people, six of them Asian, in Atlanta has raised this to a new level of terror. My heart goes out to families of the victims and AAPI communities in Atlanta.
Racial violence against the AAPI community is as American as apple pie. When I was born in Jim Crow Atlanta in 1963, anti-Asian racism had been official government policy for nearly 100 years, promulgated along with mass terror by White people. The “Yellow Peril” period of the 1860s began a century of American oppression of Asians in America. Asians suffered mob lynchings and mass terror followed by ever-greater restrictions on Asian immigration until the 1924 Immigration Act effected a total race-based immigration ban against Asians that was the law of the land until 1965. No action better encapsulated America’s view of Asians than the heinous 1942–46 Japanese internment, which incarcerated over 100,000 American citizens, primarily second and third generation descendants of Japanese immigrants, in remote concentration camps stripped of homes, belongings and other hard-earned gains.
In his first weeks in office, President Biden saw the necessity of an executive order condemning anti-Asian racism and intolerance; however, anti-Asian hate crime continues to soar. Stop AAPI Hate found that AAPI are more likely to experience harassment and to be victims of assault in New York than elsewhere in the U.S.: in liberal New York City, where Biden/Harris won 76% of the vote, anti-AAPI hate crime soared nineteen times as much in 2020 over the previous year but declined against every other group.
Tragic yet unsurprising, domestic violence surged for Asian American women. The summer brought an increase in calls, restraining orders, with notable increases in the severity of violence, sexual violence. There are disturbing accounts that technology, so critical to working and schooling from home, was also used to surveil and control women.
In New York City, COVID made the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community the first to suffer. Without significant intervention, it will likely be the last to recover. Misguided fears of the virus effectively closed businesses in Asian communities six weeks earlier than the City as a whole, starting January 20 instead of March 2 citywide, despite few reported cases. In Manhattan’s Chinatown, consumer spending dropped 82% and restaurant spending 96%. Language barriers and lack of digital literacy stood in the way of relief and recovery.
City Hall must do more for the AAPI community. AAPI are 15% of the New York City population but receive less than 1.5% of human services contract funding. Before COVID, AAPI experienced the highest poverty rate (25.8%) and the lowest weekly wages, 82% of Black people and 36% of White people. As a result of COVID, AAPI had a 6.9x increase in unemployment claims, the highest of any community. Yet significant parts of Chinatown were omitted from emergency relief.
Before COVID, the income gap within AAPI was widening unlike any other community. Today, the top 10% of Asian earners make 10.7x as much as the bottom 10%, as compared to 7.8x among Whites. Since 1970, the earnings in the bottom 10% of AAPI only grew 11%, as compared to LatinX (37%), Blacks (67%) and Whites (46%). Direct, charitable redistribution efforts like the Korean American Community Foundation hold promise for the future.
The time to act is now. How City Hall responds to the moment will chart the course for the future of our communities. Last year, non-profit Womankind penned a substantive proposal, the AAPI Neighborhood Recovery Plan, that would address not only the AAPI, but all low-income communities. I support this plan. In addition,
- Given the extreme poverty data, there’s no question that we must focus on eliminating poverty in our communities. One simple avenue to do this is to increase representation of AAPI in city government employment, which now stands at around 8%, about half of the 15% we represent in the city’s population.
- The next Mayor must require every student to learn Black history. Empathy loses a critical tool when the stories of Black people, AAPI and other people of color are absent from the history of America. With Mayoral control of the schools, there is no impediment to doing this, other than the will of the Mayor. Given the critical importance of education in AAPI culture, the next Mayor must also abandon the divisive, anti-Asian language and policies of the current Mayor.
- AAPI must also reject policing as the sole approach to ending anti-AAPI violence. Achieving safety for AAPI — and every other New Yorker — will only come about with police reform, including an emphasis on unarmed, community-based solutions. “We do not support any initiative that expands the power of police nor do we believe in carceral responses to address racist violence,” wrote a group of AAPI community organizations led by the Asian American Feminist Collective.
For more information on how I plan to heal and revitalize this city, please visit my website.