Asian American women like myself are not doing well. Here’s how to provide support.

Some ABC’s of science-backed behaviors you can exhibit in your daily life to show empathy for Asian American colleagues at this trying time.

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Dr. Janet Ahn is Chief Behavioral Science Officer at Mind Gym, a behavior change company that has helped business leaders transform their organizations for over 20 years.
Dr. Janet Ahn is Chief Behavioral Science Officer at Mind Gym, a behavior change company that has helped business leaders transform their organizations for over 20 years.

I just scolded my daughter for no reason. I’m not proud of it. I’m not justifying it. After a long day of work distracted by the disturbing news of hate crimes against Asian Americans, and the constant fear of being attacked every time I walk down the street, worrying about my daughter’s own future and safety while she is ignorant to the violence around her – I am tired and not coping well.

I am not alone.

STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination amid the pandemic, documented 3,800 hate crimes against Asian Americans across the 50 states since March 2020. Of this data, women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men, and more than 35% of hate crimes reportedly occurred in business sites. What this means is that Asian women are most vulnerable at work.

Many people might doubt that Asian women are experiencing threats. According to this recent Payscale report, for every dollar a white man earns, Asian men and Asian women out-earn every other ethnic group (even White men). The stats indicate everything seems to tilt in Asian women’s favor – so what threats are Asian women facing?

Researchers have long noted the compounding effect of race-based and gender-based discrimination. For example, whereas white women are called out as being “bossy” when they display more “masculine” characteristics, black women experience backlash and are dubbed as the “angry black woman”.

Asian women face different challenges: they are a model minority, they are hypersexualized and fetishized, and they are viewed as a forever foreigner.

Model minority
Though a positive stereotype, being a model minority does not boost Asian women’s status – in fact this stereotype hampers performance and causes psychological stress. One study showed that when Asian women were reminded of their model minority status, it decreased their ability to concentrate and ultimately hurt their performance. This stereotype leads people to judge Asians by a different standard, which could cause “choking” under the pressure and more psychological distress and fear of failure.

Radicalized sexualization
The hypersexualization of Asian women has a long history. Attorney Sunny Woan wrote in a paper published by the Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice that “white sexual imperialism, through rape and war, created the hyper-sexualized stereotype of the Asian woman. This stereotype in turn fostered the overprevalence of Asian women in pornography, the mail-order bride phenomenon, the Asian fetish syndrome, and worst of all, sexual violence against Asian women.”

Perpetual foreigners
No matter how long Asian Americans have been in this country (since 1850s), and whether or not they were born or immigrated here – Asians are viewed as not belonging. As mentioned by a Chinese American that Dr. Min Zhou interviewed: “The truth is, no matter how American you think you are or try to be, you do not look American. If you have almond-shaped eyes, straight black hair, and a yellow complexion, you are a foreigner by default. So you can certainly be as good as or even better than whites, but you will never become accepted as white.” Research shows that feelings of chronic exclusion and ostracism can lead to resignation which is often characterized by an inability to recover from feelings of alienation, unworthiness, helplessness, and depression.

How can we best support our Asian American colleagues at this critical time? Below are some ABC’s of science-backed behaviors you can exhibit in your daily life to show empathy at this trying time.

Appreciate their culture. It’s as simple as trying different foods and recipes from a range of culinary traditions. Food can be a powerful mechanism for conveying respect and an easy way to familiarize yourself with other cultures.

Bear the burden with your Asian friends and colleagues and check in – we are not okay. A short text can go a long way.

Combat xenophobia by donating to Asian communities. Many people will avoid going to Asian-owned stores out of fear – let’s not cause more harm financially.

The goal is to exercise these behaviors enough to make them habitual. The best way to combat racism and discrimination is to root out the implicit fear of others by regularly practicing welcoming behavior. 
For me, I’ll hold my daughter a little tighter tonight and teach her to be proud of our culture. I’ll remind parents, friends and family to take the time to engage in meaningful conversation. Together, practicing as a society we can improve how we see and treat each other. 

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