Many AAPI Communities Continue to Face Hate, Fear Being Targeted at Work, New Study Finds

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Two people wearing black masks in a crowd hold signs that say "stop Asian hate" and "stop racism."
Hundreds gather at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco’s Chinatown on March 20, 2021, for a Stop AAPI Hate rally, which made space for people to grieve, make art and to honor the lives lost to recent anti-Asian violence. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are experiencing alarmingly high rates of hate incidents at their jobs, in addition to an overwhelming fear of being targeted at their jobs, according to research released this month from the California-based coalition Stop AAPI Hate and UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

The Stop AAPI Hate report combines data from self-reported incidents on the group’s website with a national survey of over 1,000 respondents administered between Sept. 21, 2021, and Oct. 8, 2021.

The UCLA study data comes from surveys sent out in April 2021 by the Asian Business Association of Los Angeles to businesses across Southern California, shortly after the spa shootings in Atlanta and soon following a spike in AAPI hate crimes  in California. According to the survey, most of the businesses polled have 20 or fewer employees.

There’s an established record of underreporting when it comes to anti-Asian hate incidents, which is why Stop AAPI Hate used a national survey to buttress its self-reports and why UCLA partnered with the Asian Business Association, which UCLA researchers emphasize is a trusted resource for AAPI business owners.

The Stop AAPI Hate report "signals that the racism is widespread, is continuing and institutionalized. That means that the racism isn't just interpersonal and in attacks, but it also leads to clear inequities in the economy and education and the workplace," said Russell Jeung, a San Francisco State University Asian American studies professor and one of the founders of Stop AAPI Hate.

According to Stop AAPI Hate’s polling, more than a quarter of respondents — 31.5% of Asian Americans and 26.4% of Pacific Islanders — reported experiencing a hate incident at work in 2021. And more than 1 in 5 respondents said they are reluctant to return to in-person work because they’re afraid they will be racially targeted.

Four people wearing masks , with two people wearing blue t-shirts hold signs that read "no more attacks on Asians" and "Unity together."
Hundreds gather at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco’s Chinatown on March 20, 2021, for a Stop AAPI Hate rally, which made space for people to grieve, make art and honor the lives lost to recent anti-Asian violence. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Of the insights collected by the Asian Business Association of Los Angeles, the UCLA study says, "the most frequent response was [that] this toxic climate [has] created fear among the staff." According to the same study, 1 in 6 businesses have been forced to change their operations as a result of safety concerns for their staff.

"It creates an atmosphere of fear when you go to work and you're uncertain about what's going to happen that day because you happen to be Asian American," said Paul Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and co-author of the study.

The Stop AAPI Hate survey also highlighted gradations in experience among AAPI respondents.

“Asian Americans who are in the working class, they don't have that option [to work remotely], and that's why they're experiencing racism at twice the rate of those who get the luxury of staying at home,” said Stop AAPI Hate’s Russell Jeung.

The UCLA study sought to flesh out this disparity in experience by breaking down responses of those working in customer-oriented businesses, like restaurants, retail and hospitality. Employees in these types of businesses were slightly, but not substantially, more likely to experience anti-Asian hate.

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However, Ong did point out dynamics that he sees as contributing to the discrepancy, however small: "[These workers] have a different relationship with customers. In professional services, there is also a high degree of respect for the providers. There is a different power dynamic. When you go to your doctor, for example, the doctor is in many ways seen as a person with a relatively more powerful position. So you learn to respect, you learn to listen to your doctor, by and large. In retailing, in restaurants, you know, a customer sees them differently. And I think that adds to the problem."

Jeung says there needs to be a balance between community cohesion and recognizing the different experiences among all those who are grouped under the "AAPI" umbrella.

"The community first needs to work together as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, because we have more political power that way. But we also need to recognize the differences and the distinctions of groups, so our report does both. It recognizes that we could come together for collective solutions, but different groups of us experience racism differently," said Jeung.

And, Jeung says, the efforts around gathering these community experiences have had a bonding effect for community members, despite the somber nature of the findings.

"Even though people report continued racism, they're also feeling hopeful in that they see the Asian American community coming together," he said. "They see the heightened awareness, not just of Asian Americans, but the broader community, that Asian Americans face racism. And then they're seeing how government officials can respond proactively."

In addition to providing a picture of on-the-ground experiences, the Stop AAPI Hate report also outlines the top solutions community members think should be implemented to combat racism. These include: more education with a focus on ethnic studies, community-based safety solutions and civil rights legislation.

"What's helpful for this report is that it gives us guidance in looking ahead, and although the racism is deeply embedded and rooted in our history in our institutions, I think we have a clear direction now to approach the hate we're experiencing," Jeung said.

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