As documented incidents of harassment, assault, and discrimination against Asian Americans have escalated during COVID-19, many groups within the community have also faced heightened financial strain. Advocates say it’s beyond time to acknowledge and take action on both.
John C. Yang, the president and executive director of the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), said he had heard “palpable” fear within the Asian-American community about being attacked, harassed, or targeted with racial epithets. COVID-19 has also wreaked economic havoc on many Asian Americans, hobbling businesses and leaving scores of workers jobless. While a variety of different factors have driven these twin crises, advocates and experts point to some overlap between the two — including xenophobic stigma that continues to impact many Asian-run businesses, barriers to accessing COVID-19 relief, and mounting mental-health concerns.
Asian-American immigrants have historically been targeted by racist narratives related to lack of cleanliness. In the context of an infectious-disease outbreak, this kind of xenophobia gets wrapped into people’s fear of contamination and easily translates into anti-Asian racism, said Sumie Okazaki, a professor of applied psychology at New York University who has researched racism and mental health in Asian-American communities.
Many Asian Americans — including those who own small businesses or who work in nail salons, restaurants and other disproportionately impacted industries — may be experiencing multiple stressors, including their financial situation, COVID-19-generated racism and the virus itself, Okazaki suggested.
“We do know that a number of Asian Americans, even if they’re not directly receiving xenophobic or racist attacks … are quite affected by the news of such attacks,” she added. “It’s anxiety-provoking. It’s fear-raising.”
The Crisis Text Line reported survey results last May that Asian Americans were “experiencing 3x higher rates of racism and discrimination compared to other texters.” Asians and Asian Americans “have experienced higher levels of mental disorders” than their white counterparts, and are twice as likely to report experiences of coronavirus-related discrimination, according to one study published in December.
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