“One of the ways white supremacy shows up in the Asian American community is the constant erasure of our people, our struggles and our connections to movements — multi-racial movements in particular,” Laura Misumi says.
Misumi is the executive director of Rising Voices for Asian American Families, a Detroit-based nonprofit that supports Asian American women in community organizing and advocacy.
That erasure of Asian American history and activism has contributed to the silence surrounding the rise in hate crimes against the community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Misumi.
Since March 2020, 3,800 hate incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California orgaization that tracks incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning and bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“From the very rhetoric of the four years in this political space, these incidents happen more frequently because people have been emboldened to do so,” said Geri Alumit Zeldes, a journalism professor at Michigan State University, referring to the Trump administration.
Such incidents are also underreported, according to Zeldes.
“I think, culturally, Asian Americans have been trying to fly under the radar,” she said. “And honestly, we just don’t think we will be heard.”
Zeldes also mentioned barriers to reporting hate crimes.
Zeldes, when asked what she wants legislators to do, said, “Examine the systems of reporting hate and bias and make it easier to do so.”
That has been a focus for Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit.
“One of the things I am looking into is whether or not to devote more resources to the (state) Attorney General’s hate crimes unit and the Department of Civil Rights,” she said, “so they can do more outreach and work within the Asian American community and make sure people know what their rights are, what discrimiantion is, and what hate crimes are and how to report them.”
Chang introduced a recent Senate resolution condemning violence against Asian Americans.
Misumi said, “Putting these resolutions forward is an important first step because it is the beginning of an acknowledgment that there is a problem. And only when we acknowledge what things are can we find solutions.”
The next short-term step is to begin the healing process, according to Misumi.
Rising Voices for Asian American Families is offering healing spaces for Asian Americans to process and address the “compounding traumas” of the pandemic, the resulting discrimination and recent events, such as the recent shootings in Atlanta that killed six Asian American women.
Those spaces will be conducted online and people can register at bit.ly/risingvoiceshealing
In April, the organization will team up with Detroit Action, a Detroit union for working class people of color, to conduct another healing space for multi-racial groups.
“It’s important that we fight white supremacy in solidarity with other communities,” Misumi said.
For long term progress, Zeldes, Chang and Misumi agreed on the need to teach comprehensive Asian American history in schools.
“If it is not something that is owned as American history, it is easier to push off and pretend these are one-offs that don’t need systemic change,” Misumi said.
The U.S. education system “softens” or presents “feel good” versions of our history and slavery – and often without the connection to white supremacy, according to a 2018 study by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
That led to initiatives like the 1619 Project, a journalism project by the New York Times that is being brought into classroom curriculums. The project is composed of works by Black authors and details the history of slavery in the United States, as well as present-day systems that stem from it, such as mass incarceration.
Misumi says that progress starts with educating oneself on the history and experiences of other groups, and then passing that onto other members within the community.
“These folks can be harder for us to talk to, so we need you to be having these conversations,” she said.
“That applies to the Asian American community too,” she said. “There is a lot of anti-blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment as well. I think there is a lot of work that communities can do internally that can be a big help.”