The impact of racial inequity on the lives of elderly Asian Americans has been rudely brought to our attention by the attacks on Asian elders. AARP is hosting several initiatives in an effort to stop Asian hate and advocate for the elders that reflect its promise to protect and serve older Americans of all colors.
In a webinar on May 6, an AARP panel, #StopAsianHate: Advocating for Our Elders, called attention to the ways individuals, organizations and communities of color can advocate for AAPI elders as they face fallout from the pandemic, racism and ageism. The discussion tackled stereotypes and how to provide support.
Key AAPI organizations discussed policy and planning of racial equity and communications, to bring visibility to their work supporting elders and to provide information on resources.
“You can’t legislate racism away,” said John Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), pointing out that federal advocacy, though critical, cannot replace educating the public. He urged that a war of words, language and beliefs, hate has to be fought in the classrooms of life.
Videos of black violence on Asians have been given currency in an attempt to deflect the issue, he added. Viral stories of other communities of color attacking Asian Americans are circulating on social media, when in reality less than 5 percent of the attackers are African American, said Yang.
With better understanding comes better appreciation of the community, and that helps build bridges between different groups, Yang explained. “We must stand together in our fight against hate of all kinds.”
One approach would be to pay tribute to and commemorate the many contributions that generations of Asian American and Pacific Islanders have made to American history, society and culture. Yang suggested that schools could highlight the contribution of Asian Americans in the history of country. Images from World War II and railroad workers should not feature only white Americans. Pictures of Asian Americans who helped build this nation alongside other Americans should be shared in classrooms.
The common thread that runs through history is that the American Asians are perpetual foreigners in their own country.
“No matter how long you have been in the US you are seen as a foreigner. Any time you have a threat in the US, and here there is Covid19 threat or real geopolitical tension against the Chinese government, the backlash happens against Asian Americans. What is different this time however is, the elderly and women are disproportionately being attacked as they are being perceived as vulnerable,” said Yang.
Asian American hate, though systemic throughout American history, has taken new meaning in the wake of the Covid 19 virus and the license to hate given by the previous administration.
“AARP strongly condemns all racially motivated violence and harassment,” stated Nancy McPherson, AARP California State Director. “We must come together as a community to empower and uplift one another, especially during these trying times. This May, let us recognize and celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Americans’ integral contributions to the United States’ past, presence and future.”
Edna Kane-Williams, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, AARP, stated that AARP unequivocally stands in support of AAPI.
AARP is making sure that it is a megaphone for this message.”This is not a time for organizations to stand silently along the sidelines hoping that people get the message. We really have to be active allies and not passive allies. This is not a benign event that is happening. It is malicious. It is malignant and it really must stop. We must signal our support of the AAPI community and our absolute rejection of what is happening in no uncertain terms,” she said.
“We have to signal our support for the AAPI community and absolute rejection of what is happening. Most importantly we hope everyone leaves this webinar with an idea of what each one of us can do individually. Each one of us must step up.”
Panelists urged the public to step up to support the AAPI community with suitable words and deeds. Words are important and carefully crafted words can damage the cause and exacerbate tensions against the community. Small gestures of kindness to an elderly AAPI neighbor for instance a bunch of flowers on Fathers Day will go a long way, said Yang.
“Let us all commit to stopping AAPI hate by taking three actions: Learn about how detrimental the ‘model minority myth’ is to AAPIs; shatter the ‘perpetual foreigner’ image of AAPIs; and reach out and support your AAPI friends, neighbors, and colleagues,” said Daphne Kwok, Vice President Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Asian American & Pacific Islander Audience Strategy.
Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, featured in the New York Times’s Express Tribune blog, exemplifies her deep interest and understanding of history and the place of people in it.