The House on Tuesday passed a bill that addresses the rise in violence and discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lower chamber approved the legislation, called the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, in a 364-62 vote.
The bill directs the Department of Justice to expedite the review of coronavirus-related hate crimes, provide guidance to state and local governments to improve public reporting on hate crimes, and raise awareness about hate crimes during the public health crisis.
Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York, who championed the bill, said it makes clear that hate against Asian Americans is “unacceptable” and “will not be tolerated.” The legislation also demonstrates that “Congress has the Asian American community’s back,” she added.
“An attack on the Asian American community is an attack on all of us,” Meng said during a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
The bill’s passage comes after the Senate overwhelmingly approved it 94-1 last month in a rare bipartisan effort. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri was the lone “no” vote, arguing it was “too broad.”
The federal government has been under pressure to respond to the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. The nonprofit group, Stop AAPI Hate, has reported 6,603 incidents of physical assault, shunning, verbal and online harassment, and civil-rights violations against AAPI communities in the US from March 2020 to March 2021.
Meng and fellow Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii introduced the legislation in March in the wake of a mass shooting at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. The deadly attack sparked national outrage over the uptick in anti-Asian violence coinciding with the spread of COVID-19 across the country and former President Donald Trump elevating terms such as “Chinese virus” and “kung flu.”
“Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19 and as a result Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on, and even set on fire and killed,” Meng said on Tuesday. “We are here today to say that Congress is taking action.”
Asian American lawmakers make up less than 1% of elected leaders in the US, despite the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders accounting for more than 6% of the nation’s population as of mid-2020.
The statistic was included in a report by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, which investigates diversity and demographic representation in elected leadership. The report was included in an article by Politico on Tuesday.
There are two US senators who are part of the AAPI community – Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. At least 16 US representatives are AAPI individuals.
On a state level, there are more than 150 state legislators in 31 states across the US. One-third of whom are representing majority-white districts, but only 17% representing majority AAPI districts, according to the report.
“The exclusion of Asian Americans from political power mirrors the history of AAPI exclusion and erasure from American society,” Brenda Choresi Carter, the director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, said in the report. “But AAPI communities are winning visibility and power, and AAPI leaders are winning elections and reshaping politics, from city halls to Congress and the Vice President’s office.”
Strides in AAPI representation in the political sphere were made when Vice President Kamala Harris made history as the nation’s first female vice president, as well as the first vice president who is Black and of Asian descent.
When taking all levels of government into account, the only state whose AAPI elected officials proportionately represent its AAPI population is Hawaii. Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke said in the report that states with significant AAPI populations – save for Hawaii – AAPI people are underrepresented in elected office.
“As a result, governments are unable to adequately serve vulnerable AAPI communities with cultural competency and with language access,” Mielke continued.
When measuring state legislatures alone, AAPI elected officials begin to mirror that of their AAPI constituents, according to the report. The percentage of state legislators in Hawaii, California, Maryland, and Washington who are AAPI are “relatively close or equal” to their AAPI population, the report read.
However, New Jersey has the fourth largest AAPI population in the US but has two AAPI state legislators, and Nevada has the fifth largest AAPI population and has only one AAPI state lawmaker, according to the report.
“Voters, regardless of party identification, really want to see reflective leadership,” Carter told Politico. “Political power has been concentrated in the hands of white men in the United States since the very beginning. And I think we are seeing the limitations of that.”
CloudKitchens founder Travis Kalanick refused to change controversial customer branding, despite internal employee complaints over perceived racism and misogyny, sources told Insider.
Kalanick’s startup rents commercial kitchen space to restaurant brands that focus on food delivery and pickup. Through its Future Foods arm, the company also creates and licenses food brands to local entrepreneurs looking to get into the booming business of food delivery. Former employees told Insider that they spoke to Kalanick and others about their concerns over Future Foods branding, like “Happy Ending” for dessert at an Asian restaurant.
When employees complained, they said Kalanick’s response was that his startup did not seek to accommodate the press or woke culture.
CloudKitchens operates “ghost kitchens,” or commercial kitchen space focused on food delivery and pickup. The pandemic has helped the budding industry take off, as consumers cut back on restaurant dining and ordered more food for delivery.
In some CloudKitchens meetings, former employees told Insider that Kalanick lambasted headlines about himself. During an all-staff meeting in 2020, he called a report that he owns a $43 million mansion “fake news.” The CEO also apparently told employees not to trust people who trust the news.
More than 300 corporate executives have left the startup since the start of the year, Insider reported. CloudKitchens was not immediately available for comment for this story and declined to comment or to make executives at the company available for interviews for the larger investigation into CloudKitchens.
As a second-generation Chinese American, I’ve always felt disconnected from Chinese culture – I struggle with the language, am unfamiliar with its customs and traditions, and feel like an impostor in a Chinese body when interacting with first-generation immigrants.
But I also constantly feel alienated in America. Despite having lived in the US my entire life, I can’t help but feel like a foreigner in my own hometown, where people look at my face and immediately see me as something otherly. My whole life, I’ve identified with the label of “American” as much as I’ve identified with “chink,” “gook,” and “virus.”
The rapid rise in anti-Asian violence and the fear it’s instilled in recent months has been a brutal reminder to millions of us of what it means to exist as an Asian in America, and it’s left us in a state of overwhelming grief and anger.
In light of these hate crimes, Asians ranging from celebrities to politicians to ordinary people have spoken out against the increasingly rampant discrimination we face. This is exactly what we should be doing. Given the widespread reluctance to acknowledge anti-Asian racism, even among Asians ourselves, we need to make our voices heard.
But at the same time, however, Asian American advocacy is far too often predicated on rhetoric that’s implicitly anti-Black.
Instead of uplifting us, this harms all people of color and pits us against one another, thereby upholding the white supremacy that oppresses and dehumanizes us.
Growing up in the US, I’ve been constantly surrounded by the stereotypes associated with being Asian.
We’re purportedly all smart, hardworking, quiet, and obedient. I took pride in hearing friends, teachers, and family members, Asian and non-Asian alike, apply these characteristics to my own race. It felt like a compliment; Asians were all high-achieving, so I automatically was too.
When I was told that stereotypes were harmful at a young age, I wondered how this could be possible. After all, what harm could come out of someone believing I was intelligent and hardworking?
The narrative that hard work and intelligence – and, by extension, success and prosperity – is an inherent part of the Asian identity not only veils the discrimination we face, but also perpetuates racism against other groups. The assumption is that Asians – the “model minority” – can achieve high levels of success in academia and the workforce despite being people of color, so if Black people fail to do the same, it’s because of their own inherent shortcomings rather than systemic barriers.
Because being perceived as hardworking doesn’t seem offensive or harmful at face value, many Asians buy straight into this narrative, resulting in a subtle sense of anti-Blackness that often manifests itself in Asian American advocacy.
We shouldn’t treat racism like a competition
When I first heard about the targeted shootings of Asian women in Atlanta several weeks ago, I instantly thought of the tragic murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. Beyond that, however, I was also reminded of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans who were unjustly murdered.
Considering the racial unrest in the US this past year, it can be easy to make this connection between anti-Asian and anti-Black violence; it’s a reminder that the oppression of one race is tied to that of other races and reaffirms the need to stand in solidarity with other people of color.
However, we need to be careful that these connections don’t turn into comparisons.
In response to skyrocketing anti-Asian violence, some people have adopted “Asian Lives Matter” as a catch-all phrase to condemn racism against Asians. Of course, our lives do matter, but using this phrase is fallacious in a way similar to “All Lives Matter” – it’s not untrue, but it’s a direct response to “Black Lives Matter” that attempts to derail our focus on anti-Black oppression and shift it to a different group. The history of racism in the US is far too nuanced for one marginalized group to simply replace another, even if it’s just in a saying or hashtag.
Our goal should not be to replace or diminish the Black Lives Matter movement but to simultaneously advocate for Black and Asian Americans. Alternative hashtags like #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate accomplish this by condemning anti-Asian racism without co-opting a movement that isn’t ours.
That being said, this underlying sense of competition – or, as activist Elizabeth Martínez once called it, “Oppression Olympics” – spans far greater than the use of a hashtag. Some Asians have been quick to criticize Black Lives Matter activists for not explicitly acknowledging anti-Asian violence. If activists can advocate for Black people, they reason, then why can’t they advocate for Asians?
Instead of uplifting ourselves and shedding light on our struggles, this reasoning insinuates that we are only owed support because Black people also received it. It forces us to spend our energy competing with one another rather than truly addressing white supremacy. It unravels the solidarity between Asian and Black activists and downplays the significant work Black civil rights activists have done to benefit people of color throughout history.
Activism is not a zero-sum game; fighting anti-Black racism benefits Asians and vice versa.
To truly contribute to Asian activism, here’s what we do.
Let’s focus on uplifting the voices of Asian Americans. Rather than place blame on the Black Lives Matter movement for occupying so much attention, let’s take inspiration from the decades of hard work activists have done to bring such attention to racial issues.
The Biden administration says it will appoint an Asian American Pacific Islander liaison after Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono decried the lack of AAPI representation at the highest levels of government and threatened to block future administration nominees unless Biden pledged more representation.
Duckworth, of Illinois, and Hirono, of Hawaii, are the only two AAPI members of the Senate and had been raising the issue of representation for months but had been met with little support, according to The New York Times,
During a tense call on Monday night with the White House, Duckworth was told by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon that Vice President Kamala Harris was proof enough of high-level AAPI representation, according to CNN.
Duckworth called Dillon’s comments “insulting.”
“To be told that you have Kamala Harris, we are very proud of her, you don’t need anybody else, is insulting,” Duckworth told reporters following the meeting. “That’s not something you would say to the Black caucus – that you have Kamala – we’re not going to be putting any African Americans in the Cabinet – why would you say that to AAPIs?”
Duckworth added that until the White House “can call me and tell me what the proposal is,” she would be a “no vote on the floor, on all non-diversity nominees.”
Hirono echoed Duckworth’s sentiments.
“Tammy’s position is that until she gets a commitment from the White House that there will be more diversity representation in the Cabinet and senior White House advisory positions, she will not vote to confirm anyone who does not represent diversity,” Hirono told MSNBC. “This is not about pitting one diversity group against another. I think this is a well-articulated, focused position. I am prepared to join her in that.”
The Asian Pacific American Caucus had previously applauded the confirmation of Dr. Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General and Katherine Tai as US Trade Representative, but Hirono and Duckworth questioned why there are no AAPI members in top leadership roles in Biden’s Cabinet.
With the Senate currently split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Duckworth and Hirono’s support for Biden nominations is crucial.
On Tuesday, the White House spoke privately with Hirono and Duckworth. Following the conversation, both women reversed course.
Ben Garmisa, a spokesperson for Duckworth, said the senator appreciated “assurances” that the Biden administration would “do more to elevate AAPI voices and perspectives at the highest levels of government” and that Duckworth “will not stand in the way of President Biden’s qualified nominees – which will include more AAPI leaders.”
Hirono said on Twitter that after a “productive” and “private” conversation with the White House, she would “continue voting to confirm the historic and highly qualified nominees President Biden has appointed to serve in his administration.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement to the Times on Tuesday night that “the White House will add a senior-level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”
“The president has made it clear that his administration will reflect the diversity of the country. That has always been, and remains, our goal,” she continued.
The White House’s announcement comes amid a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in the US believed to be related to unfounded COVID-19 conspiracies. Last year, Hirono, along with several other AAPI members of Congress, introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act which would allocate Department of Justice resources toward reviewing hate crimes.
March 9 is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Equal Pay Day.
This means it takes the typical AAPI woman over an extra two months into 2021 to earn what the median non-Hispanic white man earned in just 2020. According to Equal Pay Day Today, AAPI women make 85 cents for every dollar non-Hispanic white men make. The National Women’s Law Center wrote that the pay gap translates to a monthly loss of about $833 or an annual loss of around $10,000.
Not all women reach equal pay day at the same time in 2021; this varies by race and ethnicity, as does the gender wage gap. AAPI women are the first group to reach the earnings of what non-Hispanic white men made in just 2020. Equal Pay Day for Latina women is October 21 this year, so it takes Latina women almost 300 extra days in 2021 to earn what non-Hispanic white men earned over 2020.
It is important to note that these are approximate days of when women will reach the typical pay of white men in the same positions based on median earnings among different groups.
The pay gap for AAPI women compared to non-Hispanic white men further varies when looking at typical pay of various AAPI women in full-time, year-round positions.
A chart based on 2015-2019 Census data from the Center for American Progress shows the median Burmese woman makes just 52 cents for every dollar the median non-Hispanic white man makes, the largest gap among the communities listed in the chart. Taiwanese, Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian women actually earn a few cents more than every dollar non-Hispanic white men make.
The pay gap for AAPI women can also be seen by occupation. The National Women’s Law Center‘s analysis found that 26.6% of AAPI women are working on the frontlines of the pandemic, earning less than non-Hispanic white men in these same positions. For instance, NWLC found AAPI restaurant servers make 89 cents for every dollar non-Hispanic white men in that occupation make, based on 2015-2019 Census data for full-time, year-round workers.
Layoffs and job losses have also affected Asian Americans as a result of the pandemic’s effect on employment. According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, more than half of Asian Americans were likely to report someone in their household lost their job or took a pay cut since February 2020. Around 58% of Hispanic respondents and 54% of Asian respondents reported this, a higher percentage than white and Black respondents.
The symbolic Equal Pay Day for US women overall is later this month, on March 24.