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Standing up to anti-Asian racism

As harassment and attacks continue during this pandemic, here are some resources to help you respond to racism and build safe and peaceful communities we all deserve.

Photo: Brian Evans / via Flickr CC

In this pandemic, reports of anti-Asian attacks and harassment are on the rise—fueled by President Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric. And it’s critical that we do all that we can to stop it in its tracks.   

Within two weeks of the launch of the  STOP AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) HATE reporting center in March, it received more than 1,100 reports of coronavirus-related verbal harassment, shunning, and physical assault on Asian Americans across the U.S. Asians of all ethnicities are being racially profiled, and women are twice as likely to be targeted, the group reports.  

With shelter-in-place policies, Asian Americans face coronavirus discrimination in public and at businesses, especially grocery stores, pharmacies, and big box retail stores. Incidents include physical attacks, denial of service at hotels, verbal abuse of AAPI workers, and xenophobic messages communicated by leaders in government. 

This isn’t unlike the situation faced by Muslims after 9/11. And just as Islamophobic actions are targeted at both people who are actually Muslim and those perceived to be Muslim, COVID-19 racism has real consequences for Asian Americans who are Chinese or perceived to be Chinese. The harassment of AAPI women is especially concerning, with perpetrators often using the pretext of the coronavirus to perpetuate misogyny. Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, says “I feel like the coronavirus is being weaponized.”

People  targeted by COVID-19 racist attacks—who are dealing with the devastating impacts of the pandemic like everyone else—can feel further isolated and anxious. Tuyet Anh, a member of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF), says that her experience with harassment “makes me and other Asian Americans feel as if we are the virus. We are labeled and demonized as this threat to white American safety.”

Soukprida Phetmisy, a Laotian American, says that she has “experienced more of these incidents, back to back, in the last two weeks than I have in the entire last decade of my life. ...[I'm] scared every day and feeling anxious every day, even to just walk my dog."

In these times, it’s important to remember the damaging narratives and scapegoating that occurred in other painful periods in our history—resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1924, and Japanese internment in the 1940s.    

In AFSC’s workshops on anti-Muslim racism, we trace the roots of these damaging narratives that have targeted the AAPI community over centuries, as articulated by Edward Said in his classic work “Orientalism.” Simply put, the European or “Western” world has viewed Asian, Black, and other “non-Western” people through a lens that paints them as monolithic and dangerous, among other things. These narratives—which are still prevalent in our society and reinforced through education and entertainment—undergird our collective anxieties about public health in this moment. 

It’s as important today as ever to educate ourselves and our community about these issues, stand up to racism wherever we see it, and work to build the safe, inclusive communities we all deserve.  

Here are some resources that can help: 

Bystander Intervention:  

Report Instances of anti-Asian harassment:

More tools:

About the Authors

Zareen Kamal is an AFSC co-trainer for Communities Against Islamophobia and part of the StopCVE Chicago coalition in Chicago. She is a former Head Start teacher with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education.


Mary Zerkel is coordinator of AFSC's Communities Against Islamophobia Project and has worked at AFSC for over 20 years. In addition, Mary is co-founder of the art collective Lucky Pierre, which works on political and social issues in a variety of forms. 

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