In March 2020, Bawi Cung was attacked at a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas. The assailant also injured Cung’s 3-year-old and slashed his 6-year-old son across the face. In Brooklyn, an Asian woman was taking her trash out when someone purposefully threw acid in her face.
According to recent data, Anti-Asian crimes increased by 133% in NYC from 2019 to 2020 and 114% in Los Angeles. These crimes were not exclusive to those of Chinese descent, but members of the broader Asian community too.
Times of distress lead to quick blame and Trump’s reference to COVID as the “Chinese virus” fueled the blame. Asians had collectively become COVID scapegoats by associating us with the virus. These racially-charged attacks showed that these assailants wanted so strongly to make us feel pain that they risked getting the very disease that Asians are supposedly responsible for. Even though society has progressed in some ways, this stigmatization and violent hatred suppressed any good outcomes.
As a minority, I’ve had my share of unpleasant racist name-calling but I never imagined that the hate would escalate to this.
I grew up in an Asian household of mostly Chinese and Burmese descent, with traces of Polynesian and Dutch heritage. My father was the quintessential strict Asian dad, always pushing us to succeed whereas my mom was born in Canada and had a fairly laissez-faire parenting style. However, both had the same advice whenever someone said something racist to us: just brush it off. My sisters and I had this dual identity—we sounded Canadian when we spoke English and proudly took part in Chinese traditions and ate Chinese and Burmese food at home. This dual identity still had its shortcomings. No matter how much we thought we could fit in, we would still be viewed as an outsider.
During the pandemic, in keeping with stay-at-home orders, I quarantined. However, these attacks gave me another reason to stay inside: becoming a victim of a hate crime. I vocalized my fear of becoming yet another victim of a racial attack and some of my non-Asian friends cast my fears aside, saying “just wear sunglasses when you need to go out,” or “you can pass for South American, you’ll be fine.” Part of them didn’t want me to be worried but my fear just wasn’t legitimate to them.
Asian hate is a difficult subject to talk about because of the ambiguous place in society Asians find ourselves in. Asian values—respecting elders, material success, a hardworking mentality and honor to the family name gave credence to the fallacy of the “model minority”. This construct was designed to pit POCs against each other and succeeded so well that it even fooled us, too. When the “model minority” suffers, it doesn’t even seem real and doesn’t get acknowledged.
The model minority image extends to the beauty industry too. In most beauty campaigns, there seems to be only one idea of what a beautiful, picture-perfect Asian is. The Asian cover girls are usually of East Asian descent with long, straight black hair, porcelain skin, high cheekbones and perfect tall noses. We need to acknowledge that melanin-rich and flat noses are beautiful Asian features too. There is room for others in the beauty narrative and if we open our minds up more, we can get there.
Together, we need to bring a sense of unity to this and acknowledge that Anti-Asian hate is real. That starts with raising awareness, dispelling the model minority myth, donating to reputable organizations who help Asian communities and having those difficult discussions.
Ways to Help the Asian Community
written by: Geneva Fong, Creative Director dome BEAUTY
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