Time for full reckoning with anti-Asian racism
The National Day of Action and Healing on March 26 was launched in the United States to galvanize individuals, businesses and organizations to take steps to tackle anti-Asian racism and hate incidents. As organizers have called for efforts to make streets and businesses safer for Asians, they're also asking that business leaders work to address the long-standing problem of anti-Asian discrimination in areas such as the workplace.
I'm encouraged that people are also seizing this moment as an opportunity to shine a light on the pervasive problem of anti-Asian bias, which often acts insidiously through systems and institutions and doesn't usually produce the kind of shocking video footage that commands more attention in the media.
The 2019 study Discrimination in the US: Experiences of Asian Americans published in Health Services Research found 37 percent of Asian adults said they had experienced racial discrimination. That number jumped to 60 percent for the overseas Chinese in a recent survey highlighted by the US-based World Journal in a March 26 article. Such discrimination may not necessarily inflict physical harm, yet can be devastating.
Imagine being prosecuted by the government for alleged espionage you never committed. Racial profiling under the guise of national security has long threatened the livelihoods of scores of Chinese scientists in the US. Most are familiar with Wen Ho Lee, who was later exonerated, but more recently many others have been wrongfully targeted－including Cao Guoqing, Li Shuyu, Sherry Chen and Xi Xiaoxing.
More often, though, anti-Asian workplace discrimination occurs in subtle ways. Consider the news in February 2021 that Google agreed to a settlement with the US Department of Labor, after an investigation exposed problems including "hiring rate differences "that impacted not only female but also Asian job seekers.
Meanwhile, Asian students can have their education and careers harmed at the hands of instructors and faculty, who may disguise racial animus behind pretextual explanations.
Han Xuemei, a graduate student at Yale University, had been threatened with the loss of her funding and told to leave the university due to being "not in good academic standing", an allegation contradicted by how she had passed all tests and exams (including a language test), published a paper and began research. A grievance filed in 2005 on the discriminatory treatment, plus public pressure, pushed the university to restore her funding and allow her to continue her studies in another department.
In 2020, the University of Illinois dismissed graduate student Ivor Chen over failing to comply with the school's COVID-19 testing mandate, a punishment so draconian that it sparked public outcry and a petition that ultimately led to his reinstatement.
Some extreme cases have emerged at flight schools in the US, such as with Yan Yang in 2019.Court filings described Yan's training program as creating a hostile environment for Chinese students and enforcing harsh, discriminatory policies that didn't apply to non-Chinese peers. His family contends the abusive and discriminatory treatment resulted in Yan's suicide.
As the Stop Asian Hate movement gains momentum, let's hope, much like the organizers behind this year's National Day of Action and Healing, that this energy can be harnessed to fight not only the horrifying pandemic of hate incidents and violence, but also all forms of anti-Asian racism and discrimination. Just as Asians deserve to walk the streets without fear of attacks, so too should they have the opportunity to thrive in a workplace or a classroom free of bias and discrimination.
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