How to Be an Ally to Asian Americans

In the aftermath of the terrible killing spree across three Atlanta area spas, awareness of the rise in Anti Asian American hate has risen sharply. But this recent violence is the culmination of what started a long time ago. In the early days of the pandemic, SHRM Online wrote about bigotry against Asian people thought to be responsible for the virus. Many of these incidents happened in the workplace. As the Coronavirus continues to impact lives and the economy around the globe, crimes against Asian Americans have risen by almost 150% in 16 of the largest US cities, as reported by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Asian Americans Live in Fear

According to the American Friends Service Organization in Atlanta there have been about 3800 incidents of Asian hate reported to Stop AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islanders) Hate. These include shunning, slurs and violent attacks, disproportionately affecting women. NPR reports that advocates believe this rise in attacks is directly attributed to xenophobic rhetoric. As these numbers grow, Asian Americans become more fearful at home and in the workplace. The following story was posted on Asian Americans Advancing Justice: “At my place of employment, a man (likely a patient) approached me while I was minding my own business with, "Young lady, are you a Chinese?" I was already thinking "What the heck?" and told him to back off. He said, "Your kind are diseased." I said shame on him and that he was being a racist. Of course, now he went on with the racial slurs. None of my colleagues stepped in to help me. Everyone was silent.”

Ways to Be an Ally to Your Asian American Employees and Colleagues

1. First and foremost, if you are a leader, be there for your employees and show them you care.  After the George Floyd murder, I received excellent advice from a co-worker.  She is Caucasian and is married to an African American. Her advice was to ask people of color in our workplace and neighborhood if they are OK, and if they need support. This same advice should apply to our Asian American employees. Check in with them and let them know you are aware of what’s going on in the news. Give them space to process and heal by extending deadlines or taking a project off their plate.

2. Educate your workforce.  Employees can’t be allies to their Asian co-workers if they don’t understand how the pandemic is used to bully or harm Asian Americans. Reiterate anti-discrimination policies and appropriate workplace behavior in training or  team meetings. Remind employees to report it to the appropriate channels if they witness an Asian American employee being harassed, threatened or talked down to.

3. If you witness someone making racial slurs to a coworker, check in with the person who was discriminated against to see how you can help and if they would like you to speak up for them. If they agree, have a timely discussion with the offender about their  inappropriate and offensive comments and let them know how their words affect their coworker, and that such behavior can not be tolerated.

4. Break the silence.  Make a statement as an organization and then follow up with discussions in team meetings or lunch and learn sessions with employees about current misconceptions. If appropriate, have an Asian American speaker present to your workforce about their experiences and what they perceive employees need. Encourage Asian American employees to share what they are going through if they feel comfortable.

More than Ever, We Need to Do More!

We celebrate Asian American Heritage Month every year with events and statements. But now we need to do more, both as individuals and as leaders.

We need to become true allies to our co-workers and employees by taking action and creating the culture of inclusion that we all want. We need to remind ourselves and others of anti-discrimination policies, we need to give each other the space and the forum to discuss topics affecting us outside of work, and we also need to educate others who may be unaware or unsympathetic.

Please write to us at about your own thoughts and experiences on the rise of Anti Asian American hate and what we can all do about it.

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