Anti-Asian hate crimes are a “racist crisis”
The mistreatment of Asian Americans in society is a broader reflection of the inequitable treatment Asian Americans experience in the healthcare system.
Hate crimes against Asians in America have been steadily on the rise, aided by derogatory language stemming from the pandemic and a historical culmination of caricatures and stereotypes of Asian people.
Alice Shen, psychiatry resident at the Yale School of Medicine, attributes the racialized history of Asians in America to the pervasiveness of these hate crimes. According to Shen, many Asian Americans were first brought to America as indentured servants, through contracts that were mere extensions of enslavement as they expired only upon death. Other Yale medical and research professionals weighed in on the effects of these events on Asian health care professionals.
“Hate crimes against Asian Americans are as American as apple pie — but we don’t learn about it in our history books,” Shen said. “Racial hatred toward Asian Americans comes along with white supremacy and therefore is also intertwined with America’s long history of oppressing Black Americans.”
The dehumanization, objectification and exotification of Asian women has led to serious consequences in the United States. On March 16, a man opened fire on an Atlanta spa, taking the lives of eight individuals — six of whom were Asian women.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, 68 percent of those who reported a hate crime that was committed against them identified as female. Intersecting identities have left Asian women vulnerable to acts of violence and systemic abuse in the health care system.
Shen shared with the News her experience with insensitive professionalism the day after the Atlanta spa shooting.
“Last year, I had an experience after the Atlanta spa shootings where I showed up to work, opened my email, and my clinic supervisor had sent an email to the team which stated, ‘I hope everyone is finding their own way to celebrate!’” Shen said. “It took me a second to realize that he was referring to St. Patrick’s Day.”
Shen and many other health care workers who are of marginalized identities find it difficult to speak up.
According to Shen, however, it is important for people to reach out and let others know how they feel if they have said something insensitive.
“For me, resilience is not remaining silent,” Shen said. “When I remain silent, I become more bitter and depressed. I wrote back to the team sharing that I was confused about the message given what had happened in the national news. Part of me did, however, second guess myself. Was it a big deal? Was he expected to know? After all, it only happened to affect Asians. Of course it wouldn’t affect him as a white man as much. Am I overreacting?”
Last March, after the Atlanta spa shooting, over 300 people gathered in front of the Yale School of Medicine to call out hate against Asian Americans.
Nichole Roxas, a co-resident of Alice Shen in psychiatry, yelled to the crowd in Tagalog, saying “Tama Na! Sobra Na!” which translates to “Stop it! Enough is enough!” in English.
For Roxas, resilience is about “rest, regroup and resist again,” a lesson Ayana Jordan, assistant professor adjunct of psychiatry, taught her and Shen. Roxas and Shen have been making community for those affected by the horrific murders through hosting and attending events for Asian American community members.
“From going to AAPI New Haven events like the vigil marking and mourning the Atlanta spa shooting massacre first year anniversary to Dr. Shen hosts gatherings of Asian Americans sharing stories about our personal experiences with the carceral mental health system and focusing on being in the right relationship with each other over dinner, and more — it is important to make space to nourish our collective,” Roxas wrote to the News.
Roxas found strength during these trying times from peers bonded by systemic abuse. According to Roxas, her friendships are “medicinal and vital” when continuing her ancestors’ struggle towards the mutual liberation of Black and Asian people.
Shen suggested that moving forward, medicine must “look beyond the model minority myth and question the message that AAPI have no issues.”
In a recent article from Politico regarding hate crimes against Asian Americans, high-profile anti-Asian assaults or murders, such as the death of a woman who was shoved in front of a train, “have not been designated as acts of hate.”
“I feel gaslit,” Shen responded. “The prevailing message is that Asian Americans have no problems, we’re hard workers, racism doesn’t touch us, we’re practically white. I’ve heard that from white people, other Asians and other people of color. So what am I to make of the suffering that I do see? When I know friends and family who get assaulted, who struggle, who attempt suicide, who persevere. That’s what gaslighting means to me — when I see pain but someone else tells me it doesn’t exist. It can’t exist.”
According to Shen, the reality is that Asian America is incredibly diverse with different ethnic groups, socioeconomic statuses, political affiliations, religious beliefs and cultural traditions.
Despite this diversity, there is one unifying characteristic among Asian Americans.
“What connects them all is the unfortunate reality of having to bear microaggressions and macroaggressions –– everything from racist jabs to hate crimes –– without many others really taking notice,” said Miraj U. Desai, assistant professor of psychiatry.
Anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States increased by 339 percent last year.