“I was pretty much on Clubhouse for 24 hours,” says Susanna Lau, aka Susie Bubble, journalist and founder of the pioneering fashion blog Style Bubble and a member of the #StopAsianHate campaign. “I needed to hear other people talk it through. I was alone at the time, and I just needed to process it with other people.”
Lau is talking about the mass shootings that took place in spas and massage parlors in and around Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, 2021. A 21-year-old gunman has since been charged with the murder of eight people – six of them women of Asian descent – after entering their places of employment and opening fire.
The killings are the most shocking instance of violence that has targeted those from the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the US, and the East and South East Asian (ESEA) community in the UK, with similar anti-Asian attacks in Australia, France and beyond. In the UK alone, hate crimes against ESEA people have tripled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the advocacy group End the Virus of Racism.
Like Lau and many others of ESEA heritage, I was horrified by the news emerging from Atlanta. As people all over the world mourned the deaths of victims like Hyun Jung Grant and Xiaojie Tan, a police spokesperson claimed that the suspect had said the shootings were not racially motivated, and that he had been having a “bad day”. Bystanders on social media parroted the line, pointing to the gunman’s alleged “sex addiction”, as if that might excuse or explain his targets.
“We’re constantly fighting to be heard and being silenced along the way,” says Amy Phung, a founder of besea.n, a grassroots network for ESEA people in the UK, describing her complicated feelings of sadness and frustration. “It’s just that weird feeling of, how can we turn this tragedy into action in the most effective way possible?”
“The shootings are basically like a Venn diagram of classism, racism and misogyny all rolled into one. And there’s a lot of things to tackle,” Lau says. Both she and Phung agree that one of the biggest ways to show solidarity with the Asian community is via donations. “It needs to be about support for the community, first and foremost,” Lau explains.
We’re constantly fighting to be heard and being silenced along the way… how can we turn this tragedy into action in the most effective way possible?”
In the US, the Support the AAPI Community fund on GoFundMe raised more than $3.3 million for grassroots organizations within a week of the shootings. Bay Area writer Jon Tsuei has been updating a list on Twitter of individual crowdfunders to cover the medical bills of the victims of violent hate crime, and for the families of the shooting victims to cover living costs and funeral expenses. In the UK, Phung says, there are “community centers that support the most vulnerable,” listing the London Chinese Community Centre and the Vietnamese Mental Health Services as just two examples.
Another way to show support for the ESEA community, Phung says, is to throw your money behind ESEA-owned businesses, particularly those that have suffered as a result of the pandemic. “Find out who’s actually running the business and make sure they are ESEA people. It’s about digging deep and making sure that wherever you are spending your money, it goes to the people who really need it.”
A petition fighting the use of imagery of East and South East Asians on coronavirus news stories has also been set up and, at the time of writing, is already at 28,000 signatures. “But the more [signatures] we have, the better we can use it to lobby the government,” Phung adds.
Engage, challenge your friends and be mindful of your language and how you frame the situation. We all have our biases…”
Visibility is an important piece of the puzzle, says Lau, so follow and signal-boost the messages of AAPI and ESEA campaigns and movements. “Not that I think amplification is the only thing we should be looking at,” she says. “[But] even right now, the amplification that you’re seeing on social media is mostly still confined to ESEA and AAPI communities. It’s still very minimal, especially in the UK.”
“The second thing is education and reading,” she continues. “People need to understand the particulars of the stereotyping of Asian women that I fully believe led to those shootings. To me, the connection is too flagrant. It’s really about understanding the specificities of the fetishization and stereotyping of Asian women and how that impacts on their wellbeing and the increased risk of violent hate crime.”
Lau herself has written about the #StopAsianHate movement, and journalist Angela Hui has extensively documented the rise in hate crimes against ESEA people in the UK. Publications such as Vox and Esquire have recommended reading lists that both explain and contextualize the history of anti-Asian discrimination, with British-Asian actor Gemma Chan recommending Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings on Instagram.
But more than that, “activate that reading,” urges Hau-Yu Tam, the chair of End the Virus of Racism. “You could volunteer at any charity – a lot of them are doing frontline work, like handing out food packages. Many of these organizations just don’t have the resources, and they’re so undervalued.”
Tam and Phung say that stepping up to challenge bigotry of all kinds is also key. “Engage, challenge your friends and be mindful of your language and how you frame the situation. We all have our biases,” Tam explains. “We have to do better as a community to tackle these prejudices – Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Blackness – there are so many intersecting lines of discrimination.”
There’s a great amount of interest now, but what happens when things die down? How are you going to continue your solidarity?”
If you notice something happening in public, Phung adds, you can also practice being an active bystander if you feel safe enough to do so. “Step in and focus on the victim and try as much as possible to remove them from the situation,” she says. You could, for example, distract the perpetrator by engaging them in a conversation, or by coming up with a reason to speak to the victim.
Most of all, Tam says, is understanding that allyship and supporting the ESEA community shouldn’t be divorced from the realities of other social and economic issues. “Our issues are not just East and South East Asian issues,” she explains. “They are migrant and refugee issues. They are homelessness issues. They are violence against women and girls issues. They are child-exploitation issues. They’re not apart; we are all in the same community together. How can we build these links and mobilize together? What policies can we change, from your workplace to a national level?”
AAPI and ESEA communities all over the world are exhausted and grieving. They need resources and, probably most of all, the kind of support that sticks around, even after the initial headlines have disappeared. “I really encourage people to practice a sort of solidarity that is sustainable and transformational and not just reactionary,” Phung says. “There’s a great amount of interest now, but what happens when things die down? How are you going to continue your solidarity? Because what really helps change to be transformational is to do something sustainable.”
Zing Tsjeng is a journalist and author of the Forgotten Women book series
YNAP stands in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, and conducted an internal poll amongst its employees to select a charity that supports our Asian colleagues, friends, family and customers. The charity selected was Stop AAPI Hate.