In April 2020, I wrote an article for Health magazine about the horrific rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling attention to different mental health resources that Asians can utilize. This was amid a small wave of national awareness and condemnation of these crimes. But after a few weeks, people got tired of paying attention to us. Asians, and the racism we faced, went back to being an invisible issue. Though I expected this, it didn't lessen the disappointment. Just because others were no longer listening to us doesn't mean these hate crimes stopped. If anything, throughout 2020 and into 2021, incidences of anti-Asian hate crimes only continued to skyrocket.
The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism found that in 2020, anti‐Asian hate crimes grew by 149 percent. During the first year of this pandemic, Stop AAPI Hate (an online hate crime reporting center launched in March 2020) received nearly 3,800 reports of hate crimes against Asians. Plus, that number doesn't even take into account the many unreported incidents nor non-violent racist incidents against Asians. Using anti-Asian slurs, making slant eyes — these acts of racism, long categorized as "harmless," all contribute toward the myth that Asians are perpetual foreigners. This myth is why so many people readily attacked Asians after feeling empowered by the previous administration's racist rhetoric of the "China virus" and "Kung Flu."
On March 16, 2021, about a year after COVID-related anti-Asian racism began to escalate, a white man shot and killed eight people at three different massage parlors in the Atlanta area, six of whom were Asian women. This news felt like another massive blow to Asians — kicking us while we're still down. One year later, not only does it still feel like a hostile environment for Asians in America, but it's actually become even less safe for us to simply exist; Stop AAPI Hate reported that, between March 2020-Feb 2021, Asian women especially have been the targets of these hate crimes, and are 2.3 times more likely to report these incidents.
These days, I'm exhausted and drained all the time no matter how much I sleep or how much coffee I drink. Mentally and physically, I'm in decidedly worse shape than I was a year ago. I know everyone, regardless of their skin color, can relate to this sentiment to some degree. Everyone is exhausted after spending a year in quarantine, a year with so little light in our lives, a year when we've been told to somehow keep working while the world is on fire.
But there is a very specific form of exhaustion that's unique to the Asian-American experience during this pandemic. It's quarantine fatigue compounded by a consistent fear of you or your community falling victim to hate crimes that the media largely refuses to acknowledge. White people who complain about quarantine exhaustion can go on a walk outside without worry of being attacked because of their race. Asian people experience the same quarantine exhaustion but aren't afforded the same luxury of going outside without fear. Furthermore, when Asian people do vocalize fear of being targeted by racists, we're often gaslit. We're told that our feelings aren't valid; that we don't face racism; that we don't matter. Whether we beg for help or endure this pain in silence, whether we profess undying loyalty for this country or not, some days it truly feels like it doesn't matter. Being Asian in America, especially right now, means being invisible to the media and law but hypervisible to white supremacy.
My friends tell me that I should keep using my voice to raise awareness, but I have shouted myself hoarse and then some. There is only so much shouting Asians can do on our own without the consistent, vocal, and financial support of allies — especially white allies. We need them to stand beside us and eradicate racism, and not just when the murders of Asians is trending on social media.
Instead of condemning the Atlanta shooter for committing a heinous, racially fueled hate crime, Cherokee County Sheriff's Office Captain Jay Baker chalked up these mass murders to the result of the shooter being "at the end of his rope" and having "a bad day."
Do you know who's really at the end of their rope? The victims of anti-Asian hate crimes. Those who they leave behind. Those of us who, even in the midst of our grieving, must continue to show up for a country that historically has not shown up for us.
Do you know who's really having a bad day? Every Asian person since the start of this pandemic.
These days, I've recognized there is truly nothing as exhausting as begging others for the bare minimum of being viewed as human, of having the violence and murders toward your people be put on the news and acknowledged for what they are: hate crimes. I don't know how to explain to people why they should not be okay with Asians, mostly elders and women, being used as scapegoats for COVID-19 and attacked. I don't know how to put into words this overwhelming helplessness, knowing that widespread awareness of anti-Asian hate is only raised when our collective trauma goes viral on social media.
Perhaps actor Steven Yeun put it best in his recent interview with The New York Times Magazine: "Sometimes I wonder if the Asian-American experience is what it's like when you're thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you."
We, as Americans, need to have a serious discussion about mental health — but in a different context than is currently happening. The way we approach mental health right now is harming people of color at a disproportional rate. The media needs to acknowledge the way "poor mental health" has been weaponized by white supremacists as an excuse to commit acts of domestic terrorism against people of color. Eight innocent people, six of whom were Asian women, were gunned down by a white terrorist in Georgia, who chalked up his shooting spree to a "sexual addiction" and having "a bad day." Having a bad mental health day is not a justification for committing hate crimes and mass murder. Further, it's an insult to those who actually do struggle with mental health. The fact that I needed to type this out is shocking and degrading beyond words.
Until this nation finally recognizes and makes adequate steps toward eradicating the root of the issue — the coddling of white supremacy and white feelings over the actual lives of people of color — I could sit here and shout until I'm blue in the face about mental health resources for Asian Americans, but it won't solve anything. Taking care of your mental health means so very little when your mental and physical well-being largely depend on whether or not a white man is "having a bad day." (See: The Serious Mental Health Effects of Racism)
Many people may not be ready for this conversation, but we need to have it regardless. White people are the ones who need to step up for Asians by calling out their own for their rampant racism and rooting out white supremacy. Until then, Asians collectively won't have the ability to live in peace — and a true chance at mental wellbeing — even in their own country.
In my article for Health, I listed mental health resources for Asians struggling during this pandemic. In addition to those resources, the Asian Mental Health Collective offers location-based access to therapists. Bridges is a NYC-based mental health service with a directory of Asian therapists offering remote and tele-therapy during the pandemic.