Addressing Anti-Asian Sentiments
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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian sentiment in America has been on the rise. Fueled by former President Donald Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric regarding the coronavirus, the historical prejudices against Asian-Americans in the U.S., and a stream of misinformation, violence against Asian-Americans has become increasingly prevalent. In the wake of the shooting of eight people in Atlanta, Georgia—six of whom were Asian-American—coupled with an increase in subway and street attacks, many are now fearful for their safety. In New York City, Asian-Americans comprise an estimated 16 percent of the population; at Stuyvesant, they make up an overwhelming 71 percent of the student body. The anxiety, anger, and fear felt by Asian-Americans reverberate throughout our school community.
Everyone is supposed to safely come and go as they please on the streets and public transportation. That, however, was not the case for the 89-year-old woman who was lit on fire near her home in Brooklyn. It was not the case for the 39-year-old woman who was doused with chemicals as she took out the trash.
Everyday actions, such as commuting on public transit or walking down the street, are now laced with fear. Walking or riding the subway or bus used to represent a sense of freedom, especially for many who have stayed home for months during quarantine. With in-person schooling resuming again, the idea of commuting to school is not far from students’ minds. Neither is feeling scared. For many, especially for those who live in the outer boroughs, such as Staten Island or Queens, the commute to school is laborious as is. The possibility that their safety could be jeopardized simply walking down the street adds insult to injury. With the increasing number of anti-Asian hate crimes, it is not surprising for students to feel a sense of trepidation as they are commuting. Parents are telling their kids to be extra careful not out of obligation, but of true necessity, while kids are fearing for the safety of their family members.
The thing about hate crimes is that they are not isolated events. While the exact timing of the violence may be unexpected, their motives certainly are not. They are rooted in systemic racism and discrimination. So when we hear about these incidents through news outlets and social media, we grieve for those families and in a way, grieve for ourselves. But perhaps more importantly, we think about our own families and grieve for them as well. Our parents, our aunts and uncles, and our grandparents could be next. It is a heartbreaking thing to acknowledge, and it is even more painful to be unable to prevent it.
While fears and concerns over anti-Asian-American sentiments do not often manifest in our school environment, it is important to recognize the discrimination that the large Asian student body at Stuyvesant has experienced through microaggressions. Many students can attest and relate to instances during which a teacher confused them with other Asian students or continued to pronounce their names wrong despite constant correction. Microaggressions can take the form of backhanded comments that are often based on stereotypical expectations, such as “I’m surprised how good your English is” or “I thought you were supposed to be good at math,” depicting students as a part of a uniform model minority before their own unique identities. This treatment is especially harmful as many who have felt unheard or unseen in this environment in turn have stated that they feel they need to work even harder to distinguish themselves from their peers. In light of the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, it is more important than ever to combat the normalization of these microaggressions and speak out to dismantle these implicit biases.
A step we all can take is to educate ourselves and raise awareness of the situation. Learning more about the history and pervasiveness of discrimination against Asian-Americans, in tandem with challenging the monolith that the Asian-American experience has often been portrayed as, helps us to better connect with our peers and understand how to support them. A part of this education is confronting our own biases. Racism against Asian-Americans is not usually explicit but is normalized and often manifests as microaggressions or ignorant comments. These preconceptions lead teachers and administrators to unwittingly impose their biases on Asian-American students. Being better-informed individuals allows us to be more cognizant and cultivate a safer environment for students to embrace their complex identities.
Building these safe spaces lets students speak up about the injustices they face, both inside and outside of school, and promotes understanding within the school community. Teachers should use the classroom to create conversation around America’s rising anti-Asian sentiment, whether it is taking five minutes at the start of class to check in with students, amplifying Asian-American voices in lesson plans, or providing educational resources to students. Office hours or supplementary meetings can be used as ways to offer support in a more intimate environment to those who are grieving or need a space to talk. Taking the time to inform ourselves as a school community of anti-Asian sentiments is a necessary first step to increase visibility and advance justice for the Asian-American community as a whole.