A Survey of Anti-Asian Discrimination & Mental Health

tl:dr

  • Anti-asian discrimination can cause helplessness, sadness, anger and fear — likened to PTSD
  • News outlets can be important to spread awareness, but can trigger trauma
  • Asian community provides spaces for individuals to share stories and speak up about these issues

[DISCLAIMER]

Some of the survey participants’ quotes have been altered to maintain anonymity as much as possible.

A poignant reminder of the anti-asian discrimination in the news from the beginning of COVID to now:

As a continuation from the AMHC survey, we had asked participants about anti-asian discrimination in the past year, defining discrimination as anything from being called derogatory names, being excluded, or even experiencing physical harassment due to race. An overwhelmingly 95% of participants had engaged with anti-asian discrimination on a various level

3 in 10 directly experienced discrimination:

  • 31% experienced Asian discrimination firsthand

More than 1 in 3 experienced indirect discrimination through 1 degree of separation:

  • 37% have a family member who experienced Asian discrimination
  • 36% have a friend who experienced Asian discrimination

Most were exposed through word of mouth:

  • 64% heard about Asian discrimination through social media
  • 49% heard about Asian discrimination through the news

With around 3 in 10 of our participants having directly experienced Asian discrimination, we asked what these experiences looked like:

Emotions

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Being discriminated against feels like disrespect and being looked down upon. It’s feeling “helpless and sad” but with the support and awareness surrounding asian discrimination, it’s “finally being acknowledged as a major issue.” Often people might not believe that Asians also experience hate and discrimination similar to other POC.

However, it can be hard to see so much news reporting on anti-asian discrimination. A participant recalls “seeing it on social media and how prevalent it was in the US and still occurring in [country of origin], definitely affected my mental health. I was sad to hear the abuse of seniors especially in [city of origin]” Even hearing about others’ discrimination without having to experience it first hand still made this person feel “helpless” and have become “more careful in the rare moments when I’m in a large crowd outdoors” as a consequence.

We feel the same way and want to bring light to these experiences in our community in a way that is uplifting and goal-focused in progressing towards a balance between educating others on the prevalence and magnitude of anti-asian discrimination without creating a culture of fear that the news can often project.

Effect

Photo by Traworld Official on Unsplash

The effect of these hateful comments and actions is long-lasting as a participant compares it to PTSD. “The difference is that PTSD is often triggered by a single event or series of related events, whereas racial trauma is a near-constant experience, with racial prejudice, racial discrimination and hate crimes occurring on a daily basis. Some of these situations may be life-threatening and others may have made microaggressions unintentionally, but the blow these off-the-cuff comments inflict can accumulate over time”.

Someone in the survey mentioned how their family members were mocked speaking in their native language which was frustrating and upsetting. It made them fear so much more for their own family’s safety because potential escalated threats.

The impact of anti asian discrimination is not to be underestimated as simply a short-term problem and it is important to remember that our mission isn’t to only reassure someone once for an anti-asian experience that they have, but to build a long-lasting relationship and plan to work together through these mental struggles over the years.

Culture

Photo by Hassan Vakil on Unsplash

People within the community are fearful for each other. Someone even “self-diagnosed with a sort of agoraphobia” to escape Asian discrimination and “was terrified about leaving the house and being attacked”. They felt comfort when their family had moved back to the US and had a safer space away from “irresponsible college students” but then was worried for their family “being outside because they weren’t [there] for the first few months post-March in the US”.

Discrimination creates some unavoidable anxiety for some. Talking about discrimination and anxiety can be a dark place and “2020 was just all anxiety”, especially as their family “wouldn’t listen to [them] about the news”. This can be a troubling dynamic for younger individuals who want to communicate to their family about Asian discrimination as it is often not talked about enough in Asian households. Despite isolating themselves without leaving the house, somefound no success avoiding Asian discriminiation and instead experienced “online xenophobic comments”.

The nail that sticks out gets hammered. A survey participant felt “sad and angry” when being discriminated upon and wish they had said something at the time, but “being raised in that region”, where being raised in an Asian household teaches you to “mind your business and be polite rather than confrontational”, and so they had decided to not return to the establishment. This raises an important aspect regarding the issue surrounding asian discrimination, which is that it can be hard for individuals to speak up and defend themselves when being discriminated due to cultural aspects that taught us otherwise.

We want to break this cycle by bringing together these experiences and spreading awareness to show others that they are not alone and we are here to help in any way possible. We are grateful for the safe space in Subtle Asian-AMHC in being able to hear these stories from our survey participants and want to keep advocating for others to feel empowered to do the same.

What’s next?

  • Stay tuned for a new post to see how the community has learnt to heal from the pain and trauma anti-asian discrimination has caused.
Photo by Kareem Hayes on Unsplash

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