5 AAPI Women on the Surge of Anti-Asian Racism & What You Can Do

As a brand founded by two Asian-American women, the Glow Recipe team has been distraught about the recent surge of hate crimes targeting the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. To us, real beauty is found within empathy, understanding, and inclusivity, the very lack of which has contributed to this rise in attacks. We want to bring awareness to the lived experiences of the AAPI community by sharing stories and calls to action from the Glow Recipe community, including our founders, partners, and friends. Here’s what they have to say.

“Had I done something wrong? Was I that different from them?“

“I became an American in 2020. Having been born and raised in Korea and Hong Kong, I was fortunate to not have experienced the racism that so many Asian-Americans have had to live with their whole lives. 

Ironically, it wasn’t until I became an Asian-American (on paper) that I first experienced racism. A few months after my naturalization ceremony, a young couple walking by me in the street yelled “Corona” to my face, and walked away laughing loudly. This has become an all-too-familiar narrative, with terms like “kung flu” or “China virus” entering common usage. But I was still shocked. I had a hard time understanding what happened in the moment. Had I done something wrong? Was I that different from them? Why were they attacking me, specifically? 

News articles about assaults in New York, all far far worse than what I encountered, had been circulating in Korea. My mom truly feared for my safety. She told me, ‘I think during this time, you should dye your hair blonde.’ Her thinking was, if I had blonde hair, a mask, and sunglasses, I wouldn’t look Asian — and then I wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked. 

It was a drastic change of perspective. I was and am incredibly proud of becoming a naturalized citizen. I had gone to the oath ceremony during the pandemic and the experience was fresh on my mind — standing in a room with so many others who had waited years to have the opportunity and privilege of being called American. Was I being confronted with hiding my ethnicity and heritage, elements of my identity I am incredibly proud of, just to be safe in a place I thought I could call home? 

Despite my best efforts, I do not presume to be an expert or even well-informed on all of the things we are struggling with as a country. But I know that hatred is wrong — in all of its forms. I know that respect is right. And that treating others as you would wish to be treated is RIGHT.

As the founder of a brand, I am fortunate to have a platform from which I can raise awareness of these important issues while sharing the core values upon which we built our company. I encourage everyone who reads this to speak up. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and, as cliché as it sounds, do what you can to make the world a better place. We are operating in a unique time in history and we owe it to ourselves to do our part.”

Sarah Lee, cofounder of Glow Recipe

“It’s been hard to see people who could be my grandparents suffering”

“The last year has shed a light on racism of all stripes, and the Asian-American community has seen a dramatic spike in violence, too. As an Asian-American, it’s been hard to see people who could be my grandparents suffering — and anyone who looks like me being singled out just because of how they appear.

It’s been encouraging to see advocates from other POC communities stand for the Asian community. One of the questions is, How can we take a position that racism and violence of any sort is not acceptable, while recognizing other communities have been experiencing all forms of hate and violence in dramatic ways for decades? Rather than comparing our wounds as communities, let’s work together to uplift and get at the heart of these issues, which at the end of the day are often about shared systemic and socioeconomic conditions that disadvantage people of color.

For those who aren’t familiar with the huge spectrum of the Asian-American experience, get educated and learn. Empathy starts with understanding not just the immediate experience of the people around us, but also the historical and political context in which it’s happening and the felt experience of the community. It’s also an opportunity to lift up our voices. As Asians, we’re told to fit in, to work hard, to assimilate — and I think it contributes to the invisibility the community sometimes feels in moments like this. So there’s an opportunity for the Asian community to be vocal about its pain, but also to stand in solidarity with other communities experiencing pain.

Lastly, action is a personal thing. It depends on all of the different skills and privileges that the actor has. If you’re moved, a super simple action is to go to Chinatown and be a consumer. These are small businesses that have been suffering through the pandemic, so patronize these businesses. Experience their cultures.

And from a beauty industry standpoint, we all have roles to play in wearing our corporate hats. How can we increase representation and visibility of people of all backgrounds in the work that we do? That includes cultural and ethnic identity, telling stories, skin tone range, representing all kinds of beauty needs, and doing that in a way that uplifts others. So, there are lots of different ways to respond and get engaged.”

—Deborah Yeh, Chief Marketing Officer for Sephora Americas

“Why am I a threat?”

“When tensions around COVID were super-high, there were a lot of misconceptions around it — and language in the media about this being the ‘Chinese virus.’ So, we’d see people avoid us. At one point, a person in the middle of the street screamed, ‘Go back to China! Chinese virus!’ to my husband, my daughter and me. We just walked away, because really, what is there to say? 

Ever since then, and seeing that people were avoiding her, my daughter refused to leave the house without her umbrella, which gave her a sense of security. So she carried this little orange umbrella with her for weeks anytime we had to leave the house, like it gave her protection.

As for me, I tried to minimize myself so I could come off as non-threatening; the concept in itself is laughable, because why am I a threat? But I would avert my eyes and shrink into myself to make sure I didn’t seem aggressive or come too close to anyone. At the same time, that’s me not addressing the issue and minimizing myself to avoid any further conflict, and I have mixed feelings about that.

It’s been really healing to see people being brave enough to speak about it. What’s ironic is that my mom saw my Instagram post about it, and pinged me saying, ‘Don’t rock the boat. You have to be careful.’ She’s overseas, so she doesn’t have all the context, but it’s indicative of how she had to navigate life here in the U.S. before moving back to Korea.

I had a really good conversation with her about it. Not having had these conversations with my mom in the past made it harder, in the sense that you feel alone and like you can’t raise the alarm. It’s easier now. You don’t have to be that silent minority anymore. She never even thought that we could speak up, and it shows how a lot of the trauma over years and years has been internalized by our parents. These conversations are what’s needed — not just on social media and in the news, but in families, too.”

Christine Chang, cofounder of Glow Recipe

“If no one was going to talk about it, then I was going to talk about it”

“When I read about the death of an 84-year-old Thai-American man, the assault on a Vietnamese-American grandmother, the Filipino-American man being slashed, I just had enough. If no one was going to talk about it, then I was going to talk about it. I decided to speak up and call on people to respond with a video — and people did. It’s been incredible to see how people have stood in solidarity in sharing that call to action and their own stories.

It shows that people really do have the ability to make a difference when they speak up. We’re fighting to be seen. We’re systematically excluded from existing, from our history to our grief to our contributions to the data collected by the federal government that informs policies that govern us.

For instance, the model minority myth has been a tool of oppression for our community and towards other communities, and it needs to be dispelled. We are not your model minority myth, and people need to understand that the Asian American community is not a monolith; there are so many different cultures and languages that are part of this community.

The goal is to create empathy, and people can do that by humanizing us. First, cover our stories — not only our grief, but also our excellence. Next, teach our history in schools, from elementary to high school. And then, critically, count us: Collect data on our communities. A study done in 2009 found that some federal agencies don’t even include AAPIs in their definition of underrepresented racial minorities, and that is a widespread omission. It’s erasing us. If you make our grief, pain, and communities invisible, there are consequences — and those consequences have led to people dying.”

Amanda Nguyễn, founder of Rise

“This kind of violence has a long history that’s been deliberately erased”

“I’ve seen so many within the AAPI community finding impactful ways to amplify their voices recently, in light of the recorded surge in anti-Asian hate crimes. It’s powerful to watch and feel this sense of solidarity, but at the same time, it’s painful to process and experience this trauma on such a large scale. I need people to understand this kind of violence has a long history that’s been deliberately erased and silenced.

Watching this conversation unfold has shown to me the importance of dialogue, especially among AAPIs. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from Asian-American friends and colleagues who said they’ve wanted to express so much rage and heartbreak, but have been struggling to verbalize those feelings.

For me, the words have always been there because I’ve been having these discussions online and offline for years. Growing up Taiwanese-American, it was inevitable to go through things that made me very aware of my race. But every experience, positive and negative, solidified my sense of self. No matter how many obstacles there are, I’ve made it a point to push for our community as much as possible in my career and in other areas of my life. My hope was that by putting these words out there, I might show others like me that they’re not alone.

From the conversations I’ve had and witnessed, I realize we won’t agree on everything because we don’t exist in an echo chamber, and it wouldn’t be reflective of the diversity of our experiences and cultures. But we need to talk about it openly and honestly in order to move forward. Inevitably, there will be people who minimize or discount our experiences, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

I spoke up about the attacks and the AAPI experience because I couldn’t ever imagine staying silent about something that’s my daily lived experience. I’ve always known that I move through the world as a Taiwanese-American woman, and that’s something I would never suppress. Whether it’s celebrating the joy and beauty of our community or refusing to stay silent about our pain, it’s not so much a choice I make. It’s who I am.”

Sarah Y. Wu, beauty editor, copywriter, and consultant

Want to help? Consider donating money, time, or attention to these organizations:

If you’d like to be an ally to the AAPI community, Hollaback! offers free training for safely responding as a bystander.