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Asian Americans Want To Abolish Model Minority Myth As Hate Crimes Rise

#HateIsAVirus has gone viral in social media posts about the condemning AAPI racism. [Lev Radin/Shutterstock]
#HateIsAVirus has gone viral in social media posts about the condemning AAPI racism. [Lev Radin/Shutterstock]

Clevelander Xinyuan Cui hasn’t been on a Regional Transit Authority bus since November when another passenger harassed Cui – saying Cui was responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I don’t know what I did wrong. I didn’t do anything. I wanted to say something for myself. I just couldn’t get the words out,” Cui said. “That moment was so horrible. I felt like my whole body couldn’t function.”

It’s incidents like this that have many Asian American and Pacific Islanders, sometimes referred to as AAPIs, living in fear.

The online Stop AAPI Hate reporting center — which has tracked incidents since March 2020 — logged more than 2,800 instances of AAPI hate in the U.S. in 2020.

Often, these hate crimes and acts of discrimination have turned violent.

Noel Quintana, 61, was slashed across the face in New York. 

Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, was fatally attacked on a San Francisco street.

Those are just two names on a long list of violent attacks from just this calendar year.

“In that moment, I just felt by myself,” Cui said, noting that nobody else on the bus intervened when Cui faced the racist taunt. “I saw people look at her, but nobody said anything.”

Sharing that fear is LJ, the owner of LJ Shanghai, a restaurant in Cleveland’s AsiaTown. People have called the restaurant, not to place an order, but to spew racism.

“They say ‘Oh, why don’t you go back to your country,’” LJ said. "I don’t know what I should say. I was mad and sad. You don’t even know me.”


Gabriel Kramer discussed the issue of AAPI hate on the Sound of Ideas on March 4. You can hear that conversation in the audio player above.

LJ is afraid that the verbal abuse could get worse. The restaurant is still only offering to-go orders to keep anyone from entering the business. She also makes sure that her employees aren’t walking home alone.

Dr. Stacey Litam, a Cleveland State University professor who studies the impact of racism toward AAPIs, said she’s not surprised that bystanders stood by on the bus. Behavior like that actually perpetuates such racism and people need to take a stand against it, she said.

“We have to roll up our own sleeves and do the work that’s needed. We can’t wait for others to do the work instead,” Litam said.

That’s a part of allyship, which is one the requests of Asian-Americans – to be aware of the issues, to educate others about them and to help take action when it’s needed.

Litam said some have struggled historically to be allies for Asian-Americans because of the Model Minority Myth. That’s a broad-stroke stereotype that incorrectly paints all Asian-Americans in seemingly good ways – well behaved, successful and wealthy.

“We do struggle with poverty. We do struggle with homelessness and chronic mental health conditions. We do struggle with hate crimes and murder,” Litam said.

Litam said the Model Minority Myth is a tactic of white supremacy. It’s used to deny that systemic racism exists by putting Asian-Americans on the same level as white people. That pits minority groups against each other and suggests that some people wouldn’t consider Asian-Americans as people of color, she said.

“Just recognizing that Asian Americans are also in need of support and also face racism, would be a huge step in the right direction,” Litam said.

Xinyuan Cui especially hopes for allyship from other people of color. 

“I’m really hoping that non-white people can retain solidarity,” Cui said. “Our hardship can be different, but the pain, we all share that.”

Many have called on political leaders to take action against the increase of these racist attacks.

President Donald Trump and others continued to refer to the coronavirus as the “China Virus” and it put a target on the backs of Chinese-Americans and Asian-Americans. 

Litam said that that rhetoric gave people who already had hatred toward AAPIs an excuse to attack and that it scapegoated people who had nothing to do with the virus at all.

Politicians continued to say “China Virus” even after it was evident that hate crimes toward Asian-Americans increased.

But some politicians have recently taken action.  

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order condemning racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPIs.  

This month, Cleveland City Council passed an emergency resolution to condemn racism, xenophobia and hate crimes “especially against Asians and Asian American Pacific Islanders during this pandemic.” 

The resolution also called for the Ohio Department of Health and the city’s health department to incorporate anti-racism messaging in their work. 

While more than 2,800 incidents of Asian hate crimes in the US were reported in 2020, Litam suggests that many acts of racism go unreported.

“Many of us were raised with the cultural beliefs not to make waves, not be seen,” Litam said.

But she encouraged AAPIs to resist that. Asian-Americans need to share these stories in order to educate the world on the severity of the issue, Litam said.

Litam not only encourages AAPIs to report incidents when they occur, she also wants people to consider taking bystander training, so allies know how to help when they see racial harassment. 

The AAPI community is trying to draw more attention to these incidents, which they say do not get enough media attention. 

“I think the Asian-American community has been asking for help for a really long time. I think that our stories and our cries for help haven’t been heard,” Litam said. “My hope is that we continue this trend of young people educating others about these marginalized experiences so that in a couple years, people have the language to say, ‘this is racism and this is how to help it. And this is how to extinguish it.’”

Tik Tok has become an avenue for AAPIs to demand attention to what is going on.

“I’m proud to be Asian-American, but I’m tired of being treated like a perpetual foreigner in my own country.” – @imtiffanyyu 

“You are not anti-racist if you are anti-Asian. There is no room for hate.” – @samueljhyun 

“Our community is being attacked and we are dying to be heard.” – @amandangocnguyen

Social media and #StopAsianHate, #StopAAPIHate and #HateIsAVirus are ways that Asian-Americans seek to take control the narrative. 

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.