The murder of six Asian women in Atlanta on March 16, 2021 was the devastating climax of an alarming rise in hate crimes and violence directed towards Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is a long history of discrimination and violence targeting Asian Americans, verbal and physical assaults escalated in the last year. Roughly 3,800 incidents were reported since March 2020 and women reported nearly twice as many incidents as men, according to research compiled by Stop AAPI Hate. Scholars affiliated with RSF, including Grace Kao (Yale University), Catherine Lee (Rutgers University), Jennifer Lee (Columbia University), Mae Ngai (Columbia University), Karthick Ramakrishan (University of California, Riverside), and Janelle Wong (University of Maryland) have been cited in recent media about the increase in anti-Asian bias and the wake of the Atlanta shootings.
Grace Kao is co-author of the RSF book, The Company We Keep: Interracial Friendships and Romantic Relationships from Adolescence to Adulthood. Kao was cited twice in USA Today, noting that race cannot be disentangled from the Atlanta shootings and that the experience of “foreign-ness” is common even among second and third-generation Asian Americans. She was also featured in a Washington Post article about the way that harmful stereotypes of Asian American women played a role in the Atlanta murders and in the Los Angeles Times about the re-emergence of mass shootings as the pandemic lifts.
RSF author, grantee, and former visiting scholar Jennifer Lee, has written prolifically on this issue. Science magazine published Lee’s op-ed with Tiffany Huang (Columbia University) detailing the history of anti-Asian violence in the United States. The article presents troubling data about the profound impact of the current violence on Asian American people and communities: “A survey conducted just after the Atlanta shooting shows that 71% of Asian American adults worry about COVID-19–related hate crimes, harassment, and discrimination, 21% of whom worry very often. The survey data also suggest that upwards of 2 million Asian American adults have experienced anti-Asian hate incidents since the onset of COVID-19: 1 in 8 Asian American adults in 2020, and 1 in 10 in the first quarter of 2021.” In a Columbia University blog post with Huang, Lee advocates for nuanced reactions to the Atlanta shootings that preserve the humanity of the victims and resist the urge to reduce their lives to statistical data. Lee wrote two blog posts for the Brookings Institution, one calling for an end to the trope of Black-Asian conflict that has characterized narratives about the current uptick in violence and another about imagining new and creative ways to promote safety and belonging for Asian Americans.
Racist nomenclature that emerged last year fanned the flames of anti-Asian sentiment, in particular former President Donald Trump’s repeated use of the terms“the China virus” and “kung-flu” when referring to COVID-19. Mae Ngai, Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History at Columbia University, is currently an RSF visiting scholar. Ngai wrote an op-ed for The Nation about how the Biden administration’s “tough on China” approach fans the flames of anti-Asian bias.
Catherine Lee is a political sociologist and author of the RSF book, Fictive Kinship: Family Reunification and the Meaning of Race and Nation in American Immigration (2013). Lee wrote an op-ed for the Star-Ledger on how to cultivate meaningful responses to anti-Asian violence. In an interview with The 19th, Lee locates the origins of recent violence targeting Asian American women in 19th-century U.S. immigration policies. Janelle Wong, author of the RSF book, Immigrants, Evangelicals and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, was cited along with Catherine Lee in a Washington Post article about Republicans’ efforts to use the public dialogue about anti-Asian violence to reignite their work to overturn affirmative action.
While the violence of this past year continues to have devastating impacts, there is hope that Asian American communities will seize the potential to consolidate political power. Karthick Ramakrishnan is the founder and director of demographic data and policy research nonprofit AAPI Data, where Jennifer Lee is a senior researcher. Ramakrishnan, an RSF author and grantee, was quoted in a New York Times article about the rise of Asian Americans as a political force in the wake of the pandemic and attendant anti-Asian violence. He also joined a fivethirtyeight.com podcast about the current potential for political activation among Asian Americans.