It wasn’t long after the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in the U.S. that verbal and physical attacks against Chinese Americans and others of Asian ancestry began to spike, inflamed by racist rhetoric coming from the former administration in Washington, D.C.

So alarming are these incidents, including the Atlanta mass shooting Tuesday that left eight people dead, six of whom were women of Asian ancestry, that millions of Asian Americans are feeling vulnerable and targeted during an already deeply stressful time.

In March 2020, a coalition called Stop AAPI Hate quickly formed to aggregate the growing number of reported incidents, advocate for policy responses and provide communities with prevention and support resources.

I joined a national team of researchers, called the AAPI COVID-19 Needs Assessment Project, that focuses on how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are faring across a number of dimensions, including health, employment, food security and social relationships. One of our projects involved surveying a sample of the 3,000 Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who reported hate incidents to Stop AAPI Hate between March 2020 and February 2021.

In a preliminary report we presented in early March to U.S. congressional staff, my research colleagues and I shared data showing that a substantial proportion of people who reported hate incidents have experienced post-traumatic symptoms, including depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. And 95% said they view the U.S. as a more physically dangerous place.

We found that people often don’t know how to respond to these kinds of hate incidents, so they keep it to themselves. Our recommendations to policymakers include creating more ways for people to report such incidents and to increase awareness of why reporting them is so important.


Other interventions we recommend include public messaging campaigns, bystander intervention trainings, restorative-justice initiatives, community-based safety measures, and multilingual and culturally appropriate legal and mental-health resources — as well as funding to support such measures.

Many community organizations that might otherwise provide such supports in response to discrimination and attacks against Asian Americans are severely constrained by lack of funding, particularly as they struggle to help people meet the most basic needs during the pandemic, including food and shelter. The many inequities that COVID has thrown into stark relief include disinvestment in community organizations over the past four years.

One respected local nonprofit, the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, recently called for more investment in communities as well as multi-sector solutions that address the root causes of anti-Asian violence. 

Geopolitical conflicts often ignite racial tensions at home. Friction between the U.S. and China has emboldened some people to act on their prejudices, much as resentments over immigration at the southern border have been all too easily translated into hate crimes against Latinos.

Just as our research team will be investigating these and other factors, our entire society must reckon with how anti-Asian attitudes so often linger just beneath the surface, ready to be activated by racially charged language or, as we have seen, the need for scapegoats in a pandemic-stricken society.

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