To address the rising cases of violence against Asian Americans since the onset of the pandemic, the USC Annenberg Cross-Cultural Student Association partnered with the Annenberg chapter of the Asian-American Journalists Association to host “Pandemic Panic: The surging violence against Asian Americans” on March 18. The virtual event came the day after the racially motivated shooting of eight people — six of whom identified as women of Asian descent — in Atlanta, Georgia on March 17.
Panelists Anh Do, Joyce Jang, Jon Funabiki, Dr. Sherry Wang and Christina Yang discussed the importance of addressing anti-Asian hate crimes and highlighted the racism exhibited toward Asians and Pacific Islanders to an audience of over 150 people. Specifically, the event addressed the need for cultural competency and empathy when conversing about racial hate and struggles.
Co-moderated by Nathan Hyun, a junior majoring in journalism, and Connie Deng, a sophomore majoring in public relations, the event kicked off with a video montage displaying anti-Asian hate crimes shown in the media and its significance during the pandemic. After the introduction, the panelists were asked questions regarding Asian American identity, the media portrayal of anti-Asian hate crimes, and how others can help support the community.
An invisible identity
Wang, an associate professor at Santa Clarita University in the department of counseling psychology, first emphasized how the identity of AAPI individuals is often invisible because of the model minority myth. More often than not, the struggles of Asian Americans are othered and isolated from the experiences of Black and Indigenous people and people of color, according to Wang.
“The model minority myth that we are high achieving, that we’re excelling, that it’s a better cultural trait and something that we’re inherently born with — all of which are false, it’s a very colorblind narrative,” Wang said. “When we experience racism, we don’t get the same kind of empathy or even the same kind of listening space … When we do speak up about it, we experience gaslighting.”
Highlighted by Wang, gaslighting is a tactic of psychological abuse in which a person, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. Wang and Jang, co-president of the USC Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment, both also emphasized the need for people to understand that Asian Americans are struggling and to not assume otherwise because of the model minority stereotype. In reflecting on the current hate crimes, Jang noted that “it’s a frightening time to be Asian.”
A cross-racial fight
Though Wang underscored the invisibility of Asian Americans in the typical Black and white narrative, Jon Funabiki, a retired San Francisco State University journalism professor, iterated that this fight against racism spans all races of color.
“This is not just an Asian story,” Funabiki said. “This is really a social justice racism story that affects all people of color — that we not separate Asians from other people of color who are also the victim of racist attacks in systemic racism. We can’t forget that larger picture.”
Christina Yang, general counsel and pro bono director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice - L.A. echoed the same rhetoric.
“I’m hopeful that through continued dialogue and collaboration with other communities of color and folks that are underserved, we can continue to move towards a more positive direction where hopefully one day we won’t have to see these things happen anymore,” Yang said.
A need for media inclusivity
The panelists also emphasized the role of journalists when covering such attacks and talked about the necessity for current and future journalists to listen empathically to people’s stories and report on them with compassion.
“Journalists respond to the next disaster and the next crisis, and then they start to forget, and then the next one happens. What I hope is that journalists will put more time into what they do between the crisis. That’s where it’s [going to] make a difference,” Funabiki said. “[Media outlets] can start to build these relationships with the community. They can hire more Asian American journalists. They can do more stories about Asian American lives, communities and the real lived experiences, and not simply responding — jump from one crisis to another.”
Similarly, Do, a metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times, called for street reporting to tell the complete story of the people living within an environment.
“We need to see the bigger picture and the long term goals,” Do said. “But to really tell the human story, the drama, you need to be able to capture the words and emotions of the individuals within it and around it and the fear that they will be next.”
A never ending conversation
The plight of Asian Americans does not just end after one panel — the conversation must keep going until real change is seen. So, what can you do as an individual to help alleviate the problem? Check in on your Asian friends, do not be a bystander when you see or hear anti-Asian sentiment, and actively listen to learn more about their fight in order to fight alongside them, Do emphasized.
“I think there’s a lot of talk and there’s not enough listening,” Do said. “The art of being a rare good listener is just not cultivated. Instead of always waiting for people to tell us, why don’t we just ask them.”
To watch the full webinar, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKtLJ0w8F7I.