NEWS

What’s Come Out of the #StopAsianHate Movement a Year After the Atlanta Shootings

Stop Asian Hate sign

Hongyu Liu/iStock/Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • On March 16, 2021 Robert Aaron Long, a white gunman, opened fire in three massage spas in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Six of the eight victims were Asian women: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.
  • This tragedy has increased awareness regarding anti-Asian hate in this country.

More than a year has passed since a gunman opened fire in three massage spas in Atlanta, Georgia, killing eight women, six of whom were Asian. This tragedy followed an increase in anti-Asian racism during the pandemic.

Anti-Asian discrimination in the US dates back to the Chinese Exclusion Act, as passed in 1882 to prevent Chinese laborers from immigrating to the country for a period of 10 years, but many lack awareness of this history.

The Atlanta shootings, along with an uptick in anti-Asian violence fueled by COVID-19 and xenophobic political rhetoric birthed the #StopAsianHate movement, but a great deal of work remains to be done to address the issue.

The Increase in Anti-Asian Racism

On March 19, 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate coalition was launched to advance equity, justice and power by dismantling racism and building a movement to address anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate.

According to the Stop AAPI Hate Mental Health Report, Asian Americans who have experienced racism are more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the COVID-19 pandemic itself, with 1 in 5 of them reporting racial trauma.

A recently published study in Behavioral Medicine found that Asians experienced more internalized racism and perceived a change in everyday discrimination during the pandemic, as compared to Latinx participants.

Working in Solidarity Against Bigotry

Senior Vice President for the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc. (CPACS), Victoria Huynh, says that she remembers submitting grants on March 16, 2021 when she heard the news of this local hate crime tragedy.

Huynh is Chinese herself and has worked for CPACS for 13 years. She says, "We were worried, angry and scared, for ourselves, and for our family. Everything was just kind of on hold because there was a lot of worry."

Huynh describes how they got on a call the next morning with community organizers and service providers to explore safety concerns. "Our staff were really upset. I had a few come into my office and just burst into tears because they saw their parents, their moms, and their grandmas in the faces in the names of the victims that were killed."

Over the last year since this tragedy, CPACS has continued to support AAPI communities in Atlanta, Georgia and beyond, as Huynh explains, "We went into rapid response mode, and honestly didn't really have time to kind of grieve and sit with it. And even a year after, we're still grieving."

Huynh notes, "We were one of many organizations serving victims of the families right after the shooting, providing social services, so we got a number of calls from those who are directly involved. We have lawyers and community organizers working with families reaching out for assistance."

As an organization, CPACS provides a variety of services, which includes providing rental assistance to the families of victims that lost their primary source of income and covering funeral costs after the shootings, according to Huynh.

In terms of other tangible examples of how support was provided, Huynh explains, "We were connecting individuals with mental health providers because a lot of people calling in really needed someone to talk to."

Huynh highlights, "The hate and violence against the AAPI community didn't just start in Atlanta on March 16. At the height of COVID-19, there were stories from New York and California, so we wanted to listen to our community-based organizers, faith-based leaders, business leaders, etc." 

Victoria Huynh

The hate and violence against the AAPI community didn't just start in Atlanta on March 16. At the height of COVID-19, there were stories from New York and California, so we wanted to listen to our community-based organizers, faith-based leaders, business leaders, etc.

— Victoria Huynh

To better understand their needs, CPACS had begun community listening sessions with AAPI college students even before the Atlanta shootings but continued them following the tragedy through which, Huynh notes, they connected with about 250 members of the AAPI communities locally.

Although Huynh was born and raised in the US, she says that she had someone roll down their window and tell her to go back to her country, resulting in part from politicians calling COVID-19 "the China Flu."

To address worry in AAPI communities, CPACS has developed informational resources with strategies in a variety of languages for how AAPI victims of hate crimes, as well as bystanders and allies, can respond after such events.

Huynh highlights, "This Atlanta March 16 event really galvanized the community. It was not only the Atlanta community or Georgia community that was hurting. It was the nation, like AAPI communities and allies who felt the pain from from all that was happening."

Given the impact of this anti-Asian hate crime, Huynh notes that there is a need for sustained investments and resources for families and victims who have yet to come forward to report violence or discrimination.

Huynh says, "We built this public infrastructure to support us. We're not working just in terms of the AAPI community. We are working in solidarity with the African American communities, the Latinx communities, LGBTQ communities, and many other marginalized communities as well."

Cultural Shame May Be Internalized

Ariel Landrum, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified art therapist, and the clinical director of Guidance Teletherapy, says, “According to the American Psychological Association, early research has linked the uptick in anti-Asian discrimination to increases in anxiety, depressive symptoms, and sleep problems among those targeted."

Landrum makes reference to The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, as she says, "Despite a long history of harm to the community, it took publicized violence for people to open their eyes to the plights experienced by the AAPI community. Getting help isn’t always straightforward."

Unfortunately, Landrum notes that AAPI individuals are less likely to access therapy, partly because of the cultural bias against receiving mental health services, but also due to a lack of culturally relevant approaches.

Landrum explains, "The AAPI community does indeed experience direct violence, but there needs to be awareness that microaggressions and systemic barriers have also impacted the community, increasing mental unwellness."

One of the struggles experienced that increase feelings of disconnection, misunderstanding, and loneliness are that AAPI members are perpetually seen as outsiders, according to Landrum. "Being painted with the lens that we are forever foreign increases many experiences of microaggressions and causes internalized shame around our culture," she says.

Ariel Landrum, MA, LMFT

The AAPI community does indeed experience direct violence, but there needs to be awareness that microaggressions and systemic barriers have also impacted the community, increasing mental unwellness.

— Ariel Landrum, MA, LMFT

As an example, Landrum notes that this is most commonly experienced when non-AAPI members discuss their food. "It is often vilified, described as different, vile, too smelly, too slimy, exotic, and unusual," she says.

Landrum highlights, "AAPI members are not a monolith. As diaspora of our communities, our experiences are even unique in comparison to those who live on the lands our families migrated from."

The more that cultural practices and traditions are celebrated, Landrum notes that it can increase self-appreciation and validation of identity. "Developing support networks with others in our community is also necessary to feel connection and understanding," she says.

Landrum recommends donating to AAPI communities, supporting Asian-owned businesses and getting educated on the current climate of AAPI hate. "Be a present and vocal ally by consciously sharing and raising awareness. Openly take a stand against hate and racism in all forms," she says.

Public Policy Efforts Are Needed

Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and regional medical director for Mindpath Health, Leela R. Magavi, MD, says, "I have evaluated Asian American children and adolescents who have conveyed that they have experienced increased bullying at school."

Magavi notes that some children have shared that they were told to go back to their country, despite being from the US, or hearing that they ruined the country, while adults have shared experiences of discrimination at work.

Model minority stereotypes and stereotypes in general can lead to debilitating anxiety and perfectionism, according to Magavi. "It can exacerbate feelings of imposter syndrome," she says.

Magavi explains, "Imposter syndrome can affect minority groups disproportionately. Stereotypes can cause demoralization and worsen mood and anxiety symptoms. It can also lead to increased cortisol levels, which impact the body in many detrimental ways."

Online support groups, cultural forums and religious events allow individuals to assuage their fears and educate one another in a culturally sensitive manner, according to Magavi. "I attempt to educate all the Asian American families I evaluate in clinic and know in my community and encourage others to join public policy efforts," she says.

Leela R. Magavi, MD

Local and national leaders can validate the disparate ways Asian-American people are responding to this trauma to hopefully regain their trust, so we can prevent further stigmatization and trauma.

— Leela R. Magavi, MD

Magavi notes, "There are many Asian American therapists and psychiatrists who are bilingual and trilingual. Individuals can find these clinicians by calling their insurance or using an online therapy directory." 

In her practice, Magavi treats patients who may have been traumatized, and warrant antidepressants to treat comorbid anxiety and depressive symptoms. "I ask my patients to differentiate their various emotions; journaling can simplify this often-difficult activity," she says.

Positive affirmations and gratitude letters to oneself could bolster self-compassion, according to Magavi. "Visualizing success and imagining victories could alleviate anticipatory anxiety," she says.

Magavi explains, "Therapy may help undo negative patterns of thinking and behavior. Conversing with peers in support groups could also help many individuals normalize their experiences and process their feelings."

Medical schools and training programs can help by promoting cultural competency, according to Magavi. "Minority groups are often underrepresented in trials, so we need more studies to focus on these individuals," she says.

Magavi explains, "Local and national leaders can validate the disparate ways Asian-American people are responding to this trauma to hopefully regain their trust, so we can prevent further stigmatization and trauma."

What This Means For You

If you are a member of the AAPI community, you may want to consider if mental health support may help you to manage some of the impacts of anti-Asian hate. If you are not personally impacted, you may have an opportunity to support AAPI communities to address these issues.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Library of Congress. Primary documents in American history: Chinese Exclusion Act.

  2. Saw A, Yellow Horse AJ, Jeung R. Stop AAPI hate mental health report.

  3. Wong-Padoongpatt G, Barrita A, King A. Perceived everyday discrimination explains internalized racism during the COVID-19 pandemic among AsiansBehav Med. 2022;48(2):109-119. doi:10.1080/08964289.2021.2015277