May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Guess what time it is y’all? It’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (or Asian Pacific American Heritage Month). Every May, in the United States, we celebrate people who are a part of Asian or Pacific Heritage culture. Now, I will be the first to say that we should celebrate the contributions of Asian Americans every month! Because it’s not as if Asian people haven’t contributed to our society since 1843 or 1869!
*Quick history lesson: May was chosen as Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month in recognition of the first Japanese immigrants who arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843. It also marks the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, to which 15,000 Chinese immigrants contributed to.
Asian Americans are just as a part of our country and company cultures as any Black, white, Latina, or Latina person. And if we only recognize them one month out of the year, well, that isn’t equitable.
It’s more important now to recognize our Asian and Pacific Islander colleagues and how important they are to our society because they have been put through a lot of BS since the pandemic began.
How Unconscious Bias impacts Asian Americans, Get Ready It’s Some BS.
According to a recent study, Asian Americans have faced a 150 percent increase in hate crimes due to COVID-19 stereotypes.
If you are wondering why, here comes the BS part! It turns out that many of the people committing these crimes blame Asian Americans for COVID-19, even though there is no evidence that any Asian American intentionally spread the virus. Like I said, some BS! The sad truth is that many who commit these crimes also may not be aware of their unconscious biases against people from Asia. I will never stop saying this until we all get it through our heads, unconscious bias is BS, and it’s dangerous.
What YOU can do.
If you want to help decrease hate crimes, one way is to learn about and understand unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is when we act on stereotypes or feelings we are unaware of. You treat people poorly because of your assumptions about them. Unconscious biases affect our thoughts and actions in ways that might be different from our conscious beliefs. Someone may think they don’t have a problem with Asian people because they have never consciously decided not to like Asian people. But this is why unconscious bias is tricky. So there are a couple of things you must understand about unconscious bias.
Understand that unconscious bias does not always show up as overt racism.
It’s not just overt racism that’s a problem. We have all been socialized to have unconscious biases, some positive and some negative. Our parents, grandparents, schools, and faith-based organizations taught us a lot about how we perceive the world, and not all of it was accurate. As a society, we have created various stereotypes about Asian people, which are harmful. We must stop perpetuating those beliefs and stereotypes in our professional lives.
One way this is commonly happening is by holding Asian Americans up as a model minority. It may seem like a positive stereotype because it paints a picture that Asian people are hard-working and high achieving, but it’s dehumanizing. Imagine the pressure you would feel if people expected you to be high achieving, and you didn’t meet that expectation? Don’t get me wrong, hard work and achievement are wonderful, but those are expectations we get to place on ourselves, not others.
Unconscious Bias is not a THEM problem; it’s a YOU problem.
As members of diverse workplaces, it’s up to us to be conscious of our biases against Asian Americans and other groups of people who struggle with equal treatment in the workplace. Take a moment to reflect on how you can work toward making your workplace as inclusive as possible. Have you thought about Asian stereotypes that you’ve been taught? Have you created more opportunities for Asian voices to be heard? Did you set a boundary with colleagues or family members when they made jokes about Asian people?
If everyone starts with themselves and keeps doing their part, we will make progress!
How to avoid offending your Asian co-workers
Be respectful and sensitive.
Respect and sensitivity are fundamental here—don’t ever assume that you know where an Asian person is from, their heritage, or how they identify. Some people may be Chinese, but others could be Indian or Thai. And others may not want to claim a specific ethnicity at all. Asking someone where they are from is a microaggression. Because guess what? Asian people can be born in America!
Keep in mind that Asian culture is varied and layered.
Another thing to remember is that Asian culture has many different languages and traditions, so try not to use YOUR cultural lens when making conversation with them. For instance, if someone’s from China, don’t assume that they speak Mandarin or Cantonese; they might speak Korean instead!
Do your research.
People of Asian ancestry make up 5.9 percent of the population and are one of the fastest-growing segments in our country. The Asian American experience extends beyond just the East or West Coast; it is a vibrant experience spanning the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, provinces in Canada, and many parts of Latin America. Do you see why it’s best not to make assumptions?
It’s essential to do your research, so you have some knowledge about Asian culture. This way, you won’t feel overwhelmed, lost, or put yourself at increased risk of saying the wrong thing and offending someone.
The more you know, the more equipped you will be.