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This article contains references to violence against Asian Americans. Please take care of yourself and refer to our list of resources to stay informed, connected, and safe.

Having been assigned female at birth, I often come off as feminine-presenting on the streets. I’ve learned to always look over my shoulder, keeping my hand in my pocket with keys ready to stab if need be. At subway stations nowadays, I stand in the middle of the platform or as far from the edge as I can, ever vigilant no matter where I go.

From the Atlanta spa shooting to Asian women (Michelle Go and Zinat Hossain) being pushed into subway tracks and memorial sites for Asian victims (Christina Yuna Lee) being desecrated, violence against Asian American women is everywhere. Nearly every day during the height of the pandemic, I’d learn of yet another Asian elder or woman being attacked. 

There was a 339% increase in anti-Asian violence between 2020 and 2021. Stop AAPI Hate’s research found that 3,800 anti-Asian violence incidents were reported, and 68% of those incidents were reported by women in 2021. In 2020, the NYPD collected 303 second-degree harassment reports against Asian New Yorkers, providing further evidence of a surge in anti-Asian hate during the pandemic. Yet, Asian Americans are also less likely to report crimes due to language barriers. This year, a report found that more than 20% of people blamed people of Asian descent for COVID-19, up from last year’s 11%. For Asian women, our gender and race are a deadly combination due to fetishization, racist U.S. history, and harmful stereotypes. The model minority myth and perpetual foreigner stereotype put Asian women and elders at high risk for harassment and violence because of their perceived vulnerability. It is important to remember that this pandemic exacerbated the xenophobia that was already there.

The sale of self-defense items like pepper spray and stun guns surged during the start of the global pandemic among Asian American communities. I was definitely a part of them. Early in the pandemic, I quickly ordered pepper spray for myself and my parents. I added a stun gun to my arsenal when a white man tried to slap me on the street on my way to an eyebrow threading salon. I am very grateful to the community initiatives like AAPI Safety for helping me with the cost of self-defense items I spent on myself and my family, Safewalks NYC for walking me home at night from dance classes so I could continue my craft, and Soar Over Hate that gave away pepper spray and alarms at events in my neighborhood. 

There is light in how the community continues to show up in what seems like the worst of times when the government and policies fail. The community and grassroots activists truly came together to call for and bring safety and solidarity.

  • Soar Over Hate distributes free defense devices and connects Asians to therapy resources. 
  • AAPI Safety by Kimberly Zhu and Emma K. reimburses self-defense purchases for AAPI women, the LGBTQ+ community, disabled folks, and elders in the U.S. 
  • Cafe Maddy Cab raises transportation funds to reimburse cab rides, especially for Asian women, the LGBTQ+ community, and the elderly in NYC. 
  • Secure The Bag Safety, founded by Marquise Vilson Balenciaga and Rej Joo, is a platform focused on safety practices, tools, and resources for BIPOC T/GNC/NB communities. 
  • Angry Asian Womxn, founded by Sarinya Srisakul, works to provide free or donation-based self-defense items and kits to Pan-Asian women and nonbinary folks. 
  • The research projects Stop AAPI Hate and The Virulent Hate Project collect data and statistics measuring the harm, effects, and rates of racism and violence towards the Pan-Asian community.

Community initiatives show what city policies lack and fail in providing safety for their citizens. Guardian Angels is an organization that acts as a local crime watch group, donning their red berets as they conduct unarmed neighborhood patrols. Safewalks NYC is a project where people volunteer to accompany someone to their destination. Using the service is quick and easy. My experience was always excellent, and I am very grateful for this project because it allowed me to walk home safely from dance classes at night.

Although we are arming marginalized groups with protection, we need to educate people with a curriculum that points to the root of the problem — white supremacy — and work on community building beyond the capitalist, patriarchal, and heteronormative schema. These grassroots activist movements and community care show how policies and education lack protection and support, especially for marginalized groups. For example, our housing and education systems aren’t broken. They were built to center on white supremacy, just like how the police force was originally created to protect upper-class white people. That’s why the media has often warped portrayals of Black families, and it’s no surprise the media would then overrepresent Black perpetrators to drive Black-Asian conflict. What often doesn’t get reported is how many perpetrators of anti-Asian violence are mentally ill and houseless people who are often cycled in and out of jail or psychiatric hospitals because there’s no real rehabilitation in these current systems. 

Although the media often points a spotlight on Black perpetrators, further driving a wedge between the Black and Asian communities, a study by Janelle Wong, a professor of American Studies, shows that most perpetrators are white. Therefore, it’s crucial for marginalized groups to continue fostering solidarity and building community with each other. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many women of color were and continue to be essential workers and are at high risk for infection.

It’s important to note that lessening crime means universal healthcare, affordable housing, and healthy communities that don’t fight over material resources. Finding solutions can be a bit complicated because, even within the Asian American community, we define safety differently. Despite the calls for more police, a police presence does not ensure safety and only promises the over-policing of Black and Brown people due to the historical legacy and current-day institutional structure of the carceral system. 

We need transformative justice that starts with building solidarity between marginalized communities and calling for rebuilding systems to make housing affordable and healthcare accessible. Schools can teach about anti-racism and the history of the oppressive structures and systems many normalize today. Then, maybe one day marginalized communities can walk in the streets without fearing for their lives every day. So until then, it’s important to support small businesses and check in with your neighbors and friends. By showing solidarity with one another and building trust, we will start healing our communities and transforming the future.

Credits: Jason Leung/Unsplash

Author

  • Born and raised in Lenapehoking, also known as NYC, Kai Xing Mun (she/they) is Malaysian-Chinese American, and an ace and nonbinary actor and writer. Kai is a freelance writer whose essays focus on intersectional feminism and Pan-Asian American issues. Their writing has been published in HelloGiggles, Mochi, April, and Here You Are. Their original monologue “Anna May Wong: PERSONA” was published in "In Full Color: The First Five Years Anthology."

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