#We Will Not Stay Quiet : How Asian Americans are using social media to fight back against COVID-related racism

This article contains interviews with #RacismIsAVirus, #HateIsAVirus, #WashTheHate, #IAmNotAVirus

Hate is everywhere. Since the rise of Coronavirus, more and more Asian Americans have been forced to fight not only the virus but racist attacks as well. The headlines alone show the severity of the situation. “Spit on, yelled at, attacked: Chinese-Americans fear for their safety.” “Asian Americans describe ‘gut punch’ of racist attacks during pandemic.”  “’We just want to be safe’: Hate crimes, harassment of Asian Americans rise amid coronavirus pandemic.” The AAPI community is being reminded that, as John Cho said in the LA Times, “belonging is conditional.” 

The history of anti-Asian sentiment in America reaches as far back as Asians have existed in America. Many immigrated to this country during the infamous California gold rush of 1849. Soon, tension over job competition, resulting from the large amount of Asian Americans working on the transcontinental railroad, bubbled over into the idea of “Yellow Peril” and the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The exclusion act, which wasn’t repealed until 1943, was the first race-based immigration ban. During the Spanish-America war, Americans took over the Philippines. During World War 2, innocent Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps and still chose to fight in the war for the USA. Most recently, the Middle Eastern and South Asian community faced a wave of prejudice following the attacks of 9/11. Anti-Asian racism has always existed in America, and it’s frightening that this was all it took to bring it back out in the open. 

However, the Asian-American community is far from powerless. We have a voice, and we aren’t afraid to use it. A few social media campaigns, along with a multitude of supporters, are proving that the AAPI community and our voice is powerful. 

The Interviewees:

#HateIsAVirus – Michelle K. Hanabsa

#RacismIsAVirus – Diane Phelan

#IAmNotAVirus – Mike Keo

#WashTheHate – Kai Chuan

#RacismIsAVirus Founder, Diane Phelan

What is #HateIsAVirus #RacismIsAVirus #IAmNotAVirus #WashTheHate ?

#HateIsAVirus: is a movement and response to xenophobia and discrimination fueled by COVID-19.

#RacismIsaVirus: is a campaign created to empower Asian Americans and Allies to rise up and stand together against the violence & xenophobia directed at AAPI communities in the wake of the coronavirus, so that all citizens of our country can live in dignity and peace. By using our voices to actively partake in the conversation in America about our otherness, we show and tell America that we do belong, because we say so.  

#IAmNotAVirus: is a campaign to elevate the voices of the global Asian community to foster measurable, identifiable, and sustainable change on a macro and micro level. 

#WashTheHate: is a social media campaign that raises awareness about anti-Asian bigotry related to COVID-19.

Why did you start the campaign?  Was there a specific incident that sparked the idea?

#HateIsAVirus: The videos of xenophobia and discrimination brought nothing but fear, anger, pain, sadness to our Asian American community. [As] someone who has personally experienced racism in my childhood, I felt enough is enough. I’m tired of being silent. We can’t be silent. and others need to see what we’re experiencing.

#RacismIsAVirus: I was motivated to start the campaign while in conversations with other people in my circle about the escalating violence and acts of racism against the Asian community during the coronavirus pandemic and 45’s use of the terms “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu.” I was galvanized by seeing pictures of other Asian folks in the news standing up in groups to protest, and I imagined how powerful it would be to flood social media with Asian American faces pushing back against the xenophobia. Our race and culture has long been associated with being the polite, quiet, model minority. And while stoicism bears much honor within our parents’ cultures, it is time for us to speak up. I have been so inspired by everyone who has spoken up and posted. Their words give me strength and hope that change is coming because we are all ready for change. It’s powerful to feel how anger can be channeled into action, something many of us are feeling the positive effects of for the first time.

#IAmNotAVirus: In early March, my sister in law was verbally assaulted in her state and a young child was profiled on the radio for the anti-Asian racism she was experiencing. The portraits began in my studio (www.theterriblechild.com) with friends and family volunteering. I wanted to put faces and voices to our community to make a statement that an attack on Asian Americans was an attack on your neighbors. 

#WashTheHate: My colleagues and I were alarmed at the rise of hate incidents against Asian Americans, who were being blamed for the outbreak. My friend, Celia Au, had shared a video on her social media, that showed an Asian man being harassed and being sprayed with air freshener on the New York City subway, that went viral. That inspired us to start thinking about what we could do as a marketing agency to address this issue. A week later, there were a series of violent assaults that happened here in New York. At that point, we knew we had to do something.   

How has social media specifically helped spread your message further?

#HateIsAVirus: Over 1000 cases have been reported that’s related to xenophobia or discrimination. Because of such high numbers, it’s important that we continue to spread this awareness. Using  modern day technology like social media is a great tool to bring communities together, spread awareness of what’s going on and share our thoughts. With our confirmed 4M impressions through our network of community leaders and influencers, we have been able to reach far and wide across the world. And this is just the beginning.

#RacismIsAVirus: The campaign was conceived to specifically be spread visually through social media. We’ve seen change-making things happen on social media from the Arab Spring to #BlackLivesMatter to the #Metoo movements. Our campaign stands on the shoulders of all the incredible folks to have paved the way for social change using the power of social media. Since our first wave of posts, we have been featured in The NY Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Asian Journal, Playbill, American Theatre Magazine and even on the Today Show to name a few.

#IAmNotAVirus: Our grassroots messaging has allowed us to connect with not just Asian Americans but Asians around the globe. What they experience around the globe is what we are feeling too. Racism knows no borders. We have begun an international initiative to provide a space for the Asian diaspora who are feeling isolated due to racism. We have also been able to add many partners from national and international organizations. 

#WashTheHate: Bigotry, xenophobia and hate crimes are not necessarily daily topics of conversation for most Americans, so we needed to find a way to make these issues accessible and relatable to everyone. Through our celebrity supporters and the power of social media, we were able to go beyond the headlines and news reports.  

Have you seen any impacts since starting the movement? Or have you heard any stories of people recognizing their racism and changing because of your movement?

#HateIsAVirus: Yes, we’ve seen many! The amount of support, love, and dedication to spread awareness of its mission has reached far beyond our expectations. We’ve received countless messages that shared experiences and why this movement matters to them. Some of our highlights have been outreach from students across the world who are conducting school presentations, reports, photography projects, you name it. Others have also sent us private messages telling us their friends or personal experiences.

#RacismIsAVirus: We have seen so many Asian Americans speak up and speak out against racism. This is the bottom line aim of the campaign, to get Asians angry and speaking out.  I believe people treat you the way you teach them to treat you. What we aim to change with #RacismIsAVirus isn’t other people being racist, but how Asian and Asian American people react to these attacks. We have had a long history of prizing stoicism and silence culturally, and that isn’t going to stop racist people from getting violent with us right now. Getting angry and speaking up doesn’t sound like it’s doing much, but what we aim to do is create solidarity and a united voice, the way Black communities have done.  Racists know not to walk up to a black person on the street and scream at them the way people have been screaming at Asians and Asian Americans during this time. It’s a-free-for-all, and there are people who think they can do what they want. What is happening though, is racism is finding another way to oppress black people in the form of police brutality and that is a whole other level that needs to be addressed outright and once and for all in this country. My heart goes out to the senseless deaths that have occurred by racial profiling and it makes me nuts. I protest when I can. In the meantime, right now, we aim to get people to stop hurting Asian Americans on the streets. 

#IAmNotAVirus: Many of our non Asian followers are aware of what we are facing and have decided to become allies to our community. We have been asked by institutions and my personal school system to address how we can create a more inclusive and healthy space for Asian Americans–which includes curriculum for students and training for faculty. We have heard from Asians all across the globe who have reached out to thank us for this platform. 

#WashTheHate: A hashtag campaign isn’t going to stop racism or prevent hate crimes. However, we hope our initiative is creating dialogue and conversation that may lead to changing hearts and minds, as well as actions. What’s encouraging about #WashTheHate so far is the support we’re receiving from outside the Asian American community.

How do you hope to be representing Asian Americans?

#HateIsAVirus: Bryan Pham, Founder of Asian Hustle Network, Tammy Cho, Founder of BetterBrave, and myself, Founder of WEAREUPRISERS, got together to bring this movement to life. Representing Asian Americans is the DNA of our individual companies so it made perfect sense why this is a campaign we wanted to stand behind. We hope that by creating a platform to share experiences and provide educational content for our community, will bring a better tomorrow.

#RacismIsAVirus: We hope to represent our Asian an Asian Americans as Strong, Unapologetic, and ready to stand up to these racist bullies. We want to let folks know we do belong, and you can’t try to make us feel we don’t.

#IAmNotAVirus: Our blog aims to share stories from the Asian American diaspora which we don’t often hear about–mental health, the refugee experience, families with disabilities, and more. Loan-Anh, our blog editor, just recently finished our first piece about a mother, Jennifer, who runs her own business and her adult son, Colin, who is living with Autism. I am very excited to share such a powerful story. We have a Khmer American farmer, a soon to be mother, and a Blasian artist living in China that will be profiled. Our podcast aims to connect our audience with Asian and Asian Americans that didn’t follow the conventional path. It will be less about the Asian American experience but rather how you were able to establish yourself in your field where there may be less representation. It’s powerful for us to allow our young viewers to see a pioneer that may mirror them. Our first few guests will include an ABC Nightline Producer, a rapper, a broadway actress, and television producer. We have programming lined up too for Asian, Asian Americans, and non-Asian members of our community including Mental Health, Gender and Sexual Violence within the APIA community, and navigating professional spaces. We are hoping to bring Asian American curriculum and representation to pre-k to gr 12 as well. 

#WashTheHate: We’re taking our issues and concerns outside of our community and bringing them into the public square, where they should be. 

How can people help?

#HateIsAVirus: Through a collaborative effort among founders of UPRISERS, BETTER BRAVE, Asian Hustle Network and influencers, our goal is to raise over $1M through donations, social media campaign, tee sales, and educational content to support small Asian-owned businesses across the nation who are currently struggling to keep afloat. Please support by visiting https://linktr.ee/hateisavirus_

#RacismIsAVirus: We are doing a big push for AAPI Heritage month. Post to your social media with the hashtag #RacismIsAVIRus in May and show the world we don’t stand for xenophobia. All Americans deserve peace and dignity.  You can also buy a T-shirt with all proceeds benefiting Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a non-profit doing incredible work for Asian Americans right now.

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