AAPI Heritage Month begins today. And for many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the past year has marked a double pandemic of sorts — one of a deadly disease and one of pervasive fear.
As the coronavirus outbreak was taking hold in the United States, the country’s then-president Donald Trump and his administration routinely used xenophobic phrases like “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” to describe COVID-19, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China. Misinformation, hysteria and discrimination against people of Asian descent followed.
According to a report from nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate, the number of Asian hate incidents hit 3,795 between March 19, 2020 — just days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic — and Feb. 28, 2021. (More than 500 of those incidents were recorded this year.)
That report was released in March 16 — the same day a gunman went on a shooting spree at several Atlanta-area spas, leaving eight people dead. Six of them were Asian.
Since then, more Asians and Asian Americans have become targets of brutal and unprovoked attacks: At the end of March, video footage of the vicious stomping of a Filipino woman in New York City’s Times Square provoked outrage across social media. Days later, a 15-year-old boy was arrested in connection with a November 2020 assault against a Korean American couple in Washington. And in late April, authorities charged a 49-year-old man with attempted murder after surveillance video allegedly captured him repeatedly kicking a 61-year old Chinese man in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood. (Fashion designer Phillip Lim has launched a GoFundMe fundraiser on behalf of the family of Yao Pan Ma, who remains in a coma.)
These are just the incidents caught on camera. Beyond the lens, we’re getting yelled at and spit on, pushed and shoved, stomped and struck down.
In the face of hatred and tragedy, many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who have long been taught to keep their heads down and their voices low, are speaking publicly for the first time about racism against their community.
The message is clear: It’s time to speak up.
Over the next few weeks, FN will shine a light on Asian American and Pacific Islander executives, entrepreneurs and designers as part of its ongoing commitment to champion diversity across all areas of the footwear business.
Asians and Asian Americans are at the forefront of fashion, design and innovation — including creative visionary Jeff Staple in the sneaker space, C-suite leaders such as Nordstrom Rack president Geevy Thomas and Bergdorf Goodman chief merchant Yumi Shin and influencers like Wendy Lam and nonprofit trailblazer Christina Baal-Owens.
We have the honor of sharing their stories and also will introduce some new voices at a critical time. Now more than ever, it is vital to confront injustice. We all have a responsibility — to listen, to learn and to ultimately lead the way to more AAPI inclusion.