February 22, 2021
Dear Bank Street Community,
It’s been almost a year since many of us began working from home or in a different context as a result of COVID-19. On the heels of this pandemic, we experienced a racial uprising here in America while witnessing an increase in anti-Asian rhetoric and xenophobia globally. These fears are connected to the previous administration's insistance that COVID-19 was an Asian virus and China was the country responsible for the pandemic. In news briefings, COVID-19 was often referred to as the “China virus”. This language served to incite suspicion and violence towards those of Asian descent.
In my experience, even in BIPOC affinity group conversations, the issues raised concerning the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community rarely includes digging deeply into the pathology of anti-Asian racism and mainstream media rarely covers it. According to Stop AAPI Hate, since March 2020, there have been more than 2,800 incidents of violent threats and assaults on Asian Americans nationally. Between March and December 2020, there were more than 250 anti-Asian hate crimes reported here in New York City. More recently, we have seen an increase in violent attacks on elderly Asian Americans; this feels both familiar and horrifying to me. The lack of attention on this issue reminds me of all the years I came to work after seeing violence inflicted on Black bodies and it not being acknowledged - like nothing was happening. Silence in these circumstances tend to make those affected feel a little crazy and it's experienced as a form of acceptance or complacency. This leads me to wonder why some of us are so quiet on the issue of anti-Asian racism and discrimination?
America’s racial caste system established a society where few benefit within a racial hierarchy. The myth of the “model minority” has pitted Asian Americans against others, serving to create a false narrative and build stereotypes around Asian Americans that have been harmful and exacerbated during this pandemic. Historically, Asians have been saddled with unrealistic expectations regarding behavior and achievement. Assumptions that have denied their full humanity and created a paradigm of visibility/invisibility. These assumptions are rooted in dangerous stereotypes that suggest Asian Americans do not experience poverty, health disparities, hostility, or discrimination. Asian Americans are historically underrepresented in research studies, as noted by the low enrollment of Asian Americans in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.
These stereotypes are further exacerbated by the perception of the Asian community as a racial monolith. The idea of who is Asian is a concept that is deeply flawed and misunderstood. America’s dominant culture and racial construct does not afford much space to reflect on the implications of labeling whole swaths of people in order to categorize them. This often serves to erase or ignore the ethnic and cultural diversity that exists within racialized groups and allows for inconsistent grouping of human beings.
As I noted in a recent correspondence, at moments throughout our history, America has benefitted from the work of Asian immigrants while engaging in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. Between 1848 and 1855, roughly 20,000 Chinese immigrants helped to build America’s transcontinental railroad, enabling improved access to trade and travel. Yet, when these services were no longer needed, America implemented the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which restricted Asian immigration into the U.S. This act was designed to placate White workers, who were fearful that Asian immigrants would take their jobs. 79 years ago this month, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, creating Japanese internment camps that incarcerated Japanese Americans to stem the fears of White Americans. These are just two examples of a familiar story in the narrative that is our America.
There are folks in our community who have shared with me that they feel unseen around this issue and are holding a lot of feelings. And when we were in the thick of it this summer, it was the AAPI members from our BIPOC Affinity group who first stepped up to write a note of solidarity in response to the brutality of anti-Black racism. I think it is important that we all stand in solidarity with our Asian family to support and ensure their mental and physical safety. That they know “we got you too”. Those messages are important and humanizing. As with all marginalized folk, we have an obligation to speak up when we see biases surface, interrupt folks when ignorant comments are made, and engage in the work of unpacking the issues that we have been conditioned to accept and internalize (we all have biases).
As we are reminded by civil rights activist, Yuri Kochiyama, “Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society than we have seen.”
This is the work. This is the mission. This is literally in the credo we ascribe to. We can improve the society that we have inherited by disrupting systems of oppression and changing any culture that would harm members of our community. We have an awesome responsibility to be critical lovers of our College, our community, our society, and ourselves to better support each other in the ways that are necessary and important—and humanizing.
In the face of what has seemed to be an extended silence on the issue of anti-Asian racism and xenophobic mindsets, it feels important to state that we stand in solidarity with our Asian brothers, sisters, and folx. Siempre.
For more resources on this topic, please click here.
VP for Governance, Social Justice, Equity & Inclusion