According to research from the Anti-Defamation League, Asian Americans have experienced the largest single year-over-year increase in severe online harassment in comparison to other groups. Research from the organization Stop AAPI Hate found 3,800 reports of hate incidents against AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) people in the course of a year of the pandemic.
"The reality is that America's sub-culture of hate, division, and violence is currently in plain view for all to see," says Gregg Ward, executive director of the Center for Respectful Leadership.
Some business leaders might think this is an issue they shouldn't have to worry about. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can cause even more harm.
The hate and discrimination experienced by Asian Americans in the last year has affected life in public, private and professional spaces. My Korean American hairdresser was spit on and called a racial slur while walking past an Asian grocery store. Several months ago, I spoke at an online panel on diversity and inclusion hosted by a global company. During the session, a participant sent me a private message: "My boss uses the term 'China virus' all the time," it read. "It makes me feel very uncomfortable. What can I do?"
Whether they exist in word or physical action, acts of hate can diminish, demean, and, often, escalate to violence. In her podcast Unlocking Us, author Brené Brown labels language as a force behind dehumanization. "We are all responsible for recognizing it, stopping it, and holding people accountable for dehumanizing language and actions," she says.
This responsibility extends to the workplace -- especially for those of us in positions of leadership.
Here are actions leaders can take to support their AAPI team members and stop Asian hate.
Use the power and influence you have as a professional and a citizen. Write and call your representatives to voice support for anti-hate legislation. Write letters to the editor. Leaders should publicly condemn the attacks and offer support and resources. Make sure your support is vocal and visible -- it is everyone's responsibility to speak out and take a stand against hate.
Support AAPI businesses with your time and money
Asian business owners have been the most negatively impacted by the pandemic. Research from the University of California, Santa Cruz found that the number of working Asian business owners fell 20 percent from February to December 2020. Find Asian businesses to support in your community. If your role at work includes engaging outside partners and vendors, expand your network to include AAPI-owned firms. Volunteer your time and money to organizations dedicated to fighting racism.
Your AAPI team members and colleagues, even if they have not directly experienced acts of hate or discrimination, are impacted by them. Check in and ask how you can support them. If they offer to talk about their experiences (don't assume they will feel comfortable doing so), "hold space" by listening, being present and free from distractions, and validating their experience. Never question what they experienced or "play devil's advocate." Resist the urge to "fix" or problem-solve -- just listen, believe, and validate.
Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, notes that while anti-Asian racism and violence are not new, "some of the outrage that you're seeing from the AAPI community right now is, because of the sense that we have been invisible and unheard." By using the power and influence you have as a leader, you can work in partnership with the AAPI community to amplify its voice and stop anti-Asian hate.