Anti-AAPI Hate: A Conversation With Dr. Jennifer Lee

Southern Poverty Law Center - The rise in anti-AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) hate incidents and hate crimes has finally started a national conversation on the history of anti-AAPI hate in this country, what might be driving the latest increase, and how to address it.

While there was a 7% decrease overall in hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities in 2020, those targeting Asian people increased by almost 150%, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

The violence has resulted in deaths, most recently in the Atlanta area when a young white man targeted spas at which Asian women worked. Police say he shot and killed eight people March 16, six of whom were Asian women ranging in age from 44 to 74.

Hatewatch conducted an interview with Dr. Jennifer Lee, the Julian Clarence Levi Professor of Social Sciences at Columbia University, who has written and researched extensively on the recent wave of anti-AAPI hate and violence. She is also a senior researcher at AAPI Data. In this interview, Lee discusses anti-AAPI hate, its history, current drivers and what allies can do to help.

Hatewatch: This country is seeing a horrible increase in anti-AAPI hate incidents and violence. What are you seeing with regard to the targets of this violence?

JL: First I’ll address the prevalence of the violence, which earlier estimates show that there have been close to 4,000 self-reported incidents of anti-Asian hate since early 2020, according to the website Stop AAPI Hate. This website was created because the Trump administration did not provide any kind of resources by which we could measure or help victims who were targeted because of their race or their gender or the intersection of both. Stop AAPI Hate allows victims to safely and anonymously report incidents that they’ve experienced, and the website also provides resources for individuals who have experienced any kind of anti-Asian or anti-AAPI hate.

Now, one of the things we know as social scientists is that the number of people who report incidents is only capturing the tip of the iceberg of the number of all hate incidents. Because if you’re going to report something, you’re first identifying it, defining it and processing it as a hate incident, and then you’re going one step further to report it, whether it’s on a website or to local authorities. So, the numbers that we’re seeing are extremely low because they really are just the tip of the iceberg – they are the self-reports, and since most people don’t self-report, the numbers are under-reports.

Second, our team at AAPI Data worked with Survey Monkey to field a survey immediately after the mass shooting in Atlanta. We surveyed not only Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but also whites, Blacks, and Hispanics or Latinx [people]. And what we found was rates of anti-Asian hate incidents are far higher than the 4,000 self-reported to Stop AAPI Hate. So just to give you a figure, upwards of 2 million Asian American adults experienced an anti-Asian hate incident since the onset of COVID-19. We calculated that based on our survey. We found that in 2020 about one in 8 Asian American adults – these are just adults, not even children – experienced an anti-Asian hate incident.

In 2021 – in the first quarter of 2021, mind you – and this was fielded in mid-March, this was one in 10. So when you calculate that, it winds up being at least 2 million based on the survey data. So I should caution that anti-Asian hate incidents aren’t always the things that become most viral in the media. So, the mass shooting in Atlanta or the horrific videos of elderly Asian Americans being punched, being shoved to the ground and kicked, hurled with anti-Asian epithets. They’re everything from being verbally harassed; being told that you are the reason for the coronavirus; being shoved; being body-slammed, which happened to one of my colleagues at Columbia. Being spit on, being coughed on – these are the less physical kinds of assaults, but these are much more prevalent.

This is one of the reasons why a number of Asian American civil rights organizations have said that just increasing law enforcement is not going to solve this problem because the harassment doesn’t meet the bar of a hate crime. So being told to go back to China or go back to where you came from or being hurled an insult that you are the reason for the coronavirus – that does not meet the bar for a hate crime, so these kinds of incidents are not able to be prosecuted legally.

Read More