When Anti-Asian Racism Feels Invisible (i4cp login required)


You may not see it. Your day-to-day interactions may not put you
in situations where you are exposed to anti-Asian sentiment. You may not
recognize it even when you do see it. But it is very real. The aggressions,
micro and macro, are real. The harassment is real. The violence is real. The
hate crimes are real. The history of systemic and institutional racism is real. Racism is

I have
personally experienced it on many occasions – so please don’t tell me it’s not real
– it IS.

3,795 racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
(AAPI) from March 2020 to February 2021. This number is largely believed to be
underreported, attributed in large part to language barriers, lack of trust in
the police, and cultural tendencies within the AAPI Community to stay silent. 

In February 2021, physical attacks on elderly Asian
Americans increased, and even as these assaults resulted in deaths, the
mainstream media remained largely silent. Then came the shootings of March 16th,
2021 that resulted in the deaths of eight people including six Asian American women. 

As a multi-racial and multi-cultural individual, navigating who I
show up as in the workplace and the world has never been straightforward. Since
the emergence of COVID-19, President Trump’s coinage of the terms “China virus” and “Wuhan flu” permeated the media, and the increasing wave of anti-Asian racism, it has been impossible to not show up as half-Korean–as
Asian. While the mainstream media’s silence is deafening, the option to remain
invisible no longer exists.  

For every person who says they do not see my race when they look
at me, there is another who sees nothing but race. Even as aggressive behavior
is on the rise, a disbelief pervades among others that this is a real problem.  

I have been told to “go home,” while pumping gas. I have heard
strangers scream hateful slurs at Asians in San Francisco. I have been in fear while I
walk with my Korean mother in public. On the night after the March 16th
shootings in Atlanta, I sat in an online Clubhouse room of 3,500 others gathered
in response to the tragic events, and it became clear that this was not a
feeling limited to me.  

When an attack is happening against a race, a community, an
ethnicity–the individuals impacted may all be affected differently. However,
there are always steps that can be taken to create an environment of increased
safety and comfort for those impacted.  

What can organizations do to better understand and respond to the
issue of anti-Asian racism?  


Understanding the history and
dynamics of anti-Asian racism is critical to creating a space of understanding
around current events. America has a long tradition of scapegoating
Asian Americans, and the anti-Asian sentiment that currently exists is nothing

Starting from the way Chinese laborers were treated during the
California Gold Rush where harsh treatment, targeted taxation, and racially
motivated violence were the norm to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882–this legislation barred immigration to Chinese emigrants and denied citizenship to naturalized

The internment of Japanese Americans in the U.S. in 1942, when property and
personal rights were seized with no regard for civil rights or due process remains a shameful legacy. Nearly half of the $1 billion-worth of property damaged in the 1992 LA riots was to Korean-owned businesses. The recent coinage of the term “China virus”
attributing the blame for a global pandemic to a single nation and the many
Federal Acts, court cases, riots, and
waves of violence in between are all part of the ongoing deluge of violence and other-ism aimed at the Asian American community. This is America, where Asian Americans
have continually been targeted and victimized with little acknowledgement or
media coverage of the atrocities.  

Even today, violence against those of Asian descent, particularly
among women and the elderly has gone widely uncovered by media until the March 16,
2021 shooting.  

Taking a
proactive approach on education about the history of anti-Asian

racism and
xenophobia is the first step toward building a culture of understanding.  


The term model
was coined by the New York Times in 1966. The media myth
perpetuated a story of
Asian Americans being quiet, hard-working, respectful, and high-earning. As the
model minority trope grew, so did invisibility around racism that Asian Americans faced in
the workplace and beyond. The model minority construct also created the illusion
that due to the economic advancement of some individuals, racism cannot be
experienced by AAPIs as a whole.  

Michelle Kim, CEO of the
diversity training program Awaken, notes, “Part of the myth is that we
stay quiet, we’re apolitical, that issues we’re experiencing are not valid or
are not attached to our race. There’s a continual investment in upholding this
myth, and we need to question who benefits from it, because it’s not us or
other marginalized people.” 

Racism may be present in outward aggression and hostility, masked in jokes, intersected into the fetishizing of Asian women, or simply
hidden in the denial of racism. Attacks on Asian Americans can take many forms:
Verbal harassment, deliberate avoidance, physical assault violation, civil
rights violations, and online harassment. What may be shocking is that
according to data from Stop APPI
, businesses are the primary site of discrimination, where 35%
of hate incidents are logged.  

As your organization tackles an assessment of your current
state, i4cp has put together a suite of tools to help. Our bias audit checklists and DEI Idea Book provide
actionable steps to measure bias and begin conversations.  

Stepping Up 

As an organization, take advantage of this opportunity to
take a clear stance against anti-Asian racism. i4cp’s CEO, Kevin Oakes, joined
CEOs in the pledge against racism set from the Asian American Business
Development Center, U.S. Black Chambers and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of

Other examples of
corporations that have made statements against anti-Asian racism are:

What can you do? Stay aware of current events and note when
moments of impact have happened. Leaders can use their privilege to acknowledge
what is happening and to create space for individuals to share their stories
and experiences. Co-workers can check-in on colleagues, offer assistance on
projects, and be flexible with
meetings and deadlines when possible. The i4cp DEI Idea Book
contains additional resources and research insights on the best and next practices of high-performance organizations that will
advance diversity initiatives and drive talent and business outcomes.  

Racism is not a binary story of black and white. Racism is
not a virus limited to the AAPI community. It carries over across color, race,
culture, and nation of origin. Just today, in Olympia, Washington, I drove past
a confederate flag, and was again reminded of how pervasive racism is. I cannot
prescribe a cure for racism, but I can ask that we all continue to educate
ourselves and come to the workplace with a better understanding of the complex
dynamics of being non-white in America.  

Nina Holtsberry is the Membership Program Manager at
i4cp, and of mixed Korean, German American, and Native American descent. Nina
has a background as an attorney and more than 15 years of volunteer
experience in human rights work.