As the violence against Asians continues to rise across America, it is crucial that our community be seen and heard—including in the environmental space.
I’m supposed to be working on a slide deck on how cities can advocate on climate change at the federal government. But I need to share a burden that I—and many others at NRDC—have been silently facing since the beginning of the pandemic. It came to a breaking point for me last night: Asian and Asian American hate in our country.
Last night, eight people were murdered in the Atlanta metro area at three Asian spas. Six are Asian women. A single murderer with a history of hate speech online against Asian people. When I first heard the news, I doom-scrolled for two hours and finally needed to write this out.
Additionally, these are the attacks I personally saw from my Instagram feed reported this week in the cities that are part of the American Cities Climate Challenge cities I work with:
- Filipino Uber driver subject to racist attacks at Los Angeles International Airport
- Churches in Seattle targeted (some for the fourth time) with racist and threatening messages like “You Will Pay”
- Chinese immigrant attacked during a robbery of a pizzeria outside the Philadelphia area
- Taiwanese ramen shop in San Antonio tagged with racist graffiti
- Filipina woman sexually assaulted at Diridon train station in San Jose
I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to go digging across all 25 cities in my project for incidents. But I know there are more. In fact, yesterday, before the murders in the Atlanta metro area, Stop AAPI Hate issued a report stating that 3,795 incidents were received by the organization between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021. While there has rightfully been a lot of—but still not enough—media coverage about Asian elders attacked and killed on the street (the most recent this week in Oakland), the Stop AAPI Hate report revealed that 65 percent of reported attacks were of people between the ages of 26 and 60, and 68 percent were female.
But these are just the reported attacks. And we know that most violence goes unreported, especially when it intersects with immigration, leading to an invisibility of the true scope and scale of the attacks against Asians and Asian Americans. This invisibility is nothing new for us. In data collection, we are lumped together as a monolith that erases the disproportionate impacts on communities like Pacific Islanders, Vietnamese, and Filipino communities.
That is, if we are even “statistically significant” for data collectors to count us—that was the issue with one of the most seminal recent surveys on climate change titled “Which racial/ethnic groups care most about climate change?” in which “due to sample size limitations, we do not report on other racial/ethnic groups (e.g., Asian Americans).” Yet there are studies that show “86 percent of Asian Americans agree that acting now on climate change would provide a better life for their children and grandchildren, compared to 74 percent of the U.S. population.” And as NRDC’s former president Rhea Suh said, we need to be seen and heard, because similar environmental harm happens to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities as they do to other communities of color.
Yet when we are seen, we are often scorned. We know the prior administration exacerbated and validated Asian hate within our society by continually calling COVID-19 the “China virus,” among other racialized names, but it’s always been here. (More info here, here, and here). Asians and Asian Americans face a dual stereotype as both the perpetual foreigner (recent example here) and the model minority. This only pits us against other communities of color and works to uphold the very white supremacy that is harming us. I think about Suh and the challenges I know she faced as the first woman of color president of a Big Green organization. All of this interconnects in a system of oppression that Asians and Asian Americans navigate every single day.
We are all dealing with a lot right now and remember: Elevating the issues facing one community should never be interpreted as minimizing the plight of others. We rise together.
To my Asian and Asian American sisters and brothers, I see you, and I give you big virtual hugs. We are expected to be resilient because society expects us to minimize our pain. That needs to end. It is okay to be unapologetically angry and hurt and still be driven to work on climate change every single day.
To our allies, please educate yourselves, amplify Asian and Asian American voices, and check in on your Asian and Asian American colleagues. Don’t expect responses, but it feels good to be thought of. And here are 50 organizations to donate to if you’re able, as well as additional ways to get involved.
I’m still angry and sad and hurt. And I got that slide deck done.