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Anti-Asian Discrimination, Locally and Nationally

The killing of six women of Asian descent in Atlanta this week is adding fuel to claims of anti-Asian hate alleged to be spreading across the U.S. A congressional hearing on anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination took place Thursday in Washington to address the hostile environment for people of Asian descent.

Meanwhile on Kaua'i, racial stereotyping and accountability are in the spotlight as Kaua'i's Chief of Police is trying to atone for his actions following a discrimination investigation.

"Aloha kakou, first and foremost, I'm deeply sorry for the hurt that my words have caused to those involved, to our police department, and to our community," he said. "I recognize now and accept that my comments were insensitive and improper as the Chief of Police."

Credit Kaua'i Police Department

Police Chief Todd Raybuck has also been asked to resign by the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers. This, after an investigation found he disparaged others, including by squinting his eyes and bowing up and down, mimicking a Japanese accent, while discussing police business.

The Kaua'i Police Commission has jurisdiction over the case and says disciplinary measures are forthcoming, and are private, personnel matters.

Mayor Derrick Kawakami has said he is inclined to forgive Raybuck.

"Chief is going to make people whole, he's going to have that opportunity. If you grew up in Hawai'i, it's part of our culture, it's almost ingrained to embrace our differences but it's a challenge for a police chief, it's a challenge for any high level executive that you walk a fine line and there are certain things that we're held to a different standard. He's going to learn from this," Kawakami said.

Experts on bias say the words of public officials clearly influence public thinking. President Trump's anti-Chinese rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus fueled anti-Asian bias that has simmered since Asians first arrived in America, according to Seth Brysk of the Anti Defamation League.

The Asian Exclusion Act, the World War II imprisonment, and current shunning, spitting, and violence are all linked, he said. And it's not just officials, but the words of everyday people who create the social narrative.

"If you think about ultimate acts of expressions of hatred, you first have to convince people to look at one another differently, to condition society that it's okay to look at somebody else as lesser than. So words really matter," Brysk said.

Brysk maintains that words begin the process of dehumanizing others. On the other hand, he says, words and stories, are ways to create understanding between people.

Credit Harold Julian
Daniel Dae Kim, photographed by Harold Julian

Actor Daniel Dae Kim has spoken out about the bias incidents and says Asians have had peripheral roles in American media, but fuller characters are emerging. (Note: HPR interviewed Kim before Tuesday's attacks in Georgia.)

"Very often we were relegated to the forensic specialist or the computer tech guy who gives all the exposition to the white leads. But many of a generation ago would consider that progress too, because at least we would be seen," he said. "As we watch more and more people of color's stories being told, we're also sharing the implicit message that these are people worth understanding and empathizing with."

Kim is playing the lead in season two of The Hot Zone on National Geographic. He says he applauds Minari, a film about a Korean American family farm in Arkansas, that racked up six Oscar nominations this week.

"It's a sign of the times, things are changing. People are recognizing more that American stories do not necessarily mean that it's just white American stories. What America is and what America means can have many faces, African American, in this case, Korean American," Kim said.

An article about Steven Yeun in the New York Times

For his role in Minari, Steven Yeun is the first Asian American to be nominated for a Best Actor at the Oscars. 

“Sometimes I wonder if the Asian American experience is like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but nobody else is thinking about you,” Yeun said in a recent New York Times interview. 

This week the online hate tracker, StopAAPIHate released its 2020 numbers—nearly 3,800 incidents against Asian or perceived Asians were reported so far since the pandemic began. There have been 503 incidents since the start of 2021.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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