By Andrea Ruggirello, Associate Director
In 2021, hate crimes against Asian Americans were 339% higher than in 2020. The violence was punctuated on March 16 of that year when eight people were gunned down in a mass shooting in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women. Violence against Asian Americans continues to make headlines in 2022 with the murders of Michelle Go, who was pushed onto the New York City subway tracks and Christina Yuna Lee, who was stabbed to death in her own apartment.
The violence follows rhetoric in the media and by some political leaders who leveled their anger and blame for the COVID-19 pandemic — the first outbreak took place in Wuhan City, China — toward Asian Americans, particularly East Asians. The popularization of terms like “kung-flu” and “China virus” have contributed to the conflation of COVID and Asian Americans.
Public relations can play a role in deflecting that conversation, correcting misconceptions and stereotypes, and flipping dangerous rhetoric. Here are four ways PR professionals can help support Asian Americans and combat harmful representation.
When COVID-19 arrived in the United States, some media outlets used images of people of East and Southeast Asian descent, often wearing masks, in their news stories. This contributed to the correlation between Asian Americans and the disease. Why use images of Asian Americans when communicating about COVID, unless the article is specifically focused on Asian Americans? And, even then, consider what the casual reader might glean from a glance at a photo or headline.
Asian Americans make up 13% of the workforce but only 5% of CEOs. Stereotypical assumptions that Asian Americans are quiet, weak, or timid may be contributing factors to this imbalance. When considering spokespeople and public speaking opportunities, invite Asian American candidates — and not just to talk about issues of diversity. By positioning Asian Americans in positions of authority and expertise, you can help them be seen as leaders and storytellers, not victims.
The idea that Asians and Asian Americans are one and the same contributes to their dehumanization. When possible, be specific about the ethnicity you’re referring to. If you’re interviewing someone and their ethnicity or race is important to the piece, ask them for their ethnic identity.
Social media statements are a way for a company to speak out against violence or in support of a group or movement. However, the allyship should not stop there. Public relations professionals should encourage their companies and clients to put their words into action through charitable donations, pro bono work, or employee training that makes a difference on the issues, beyond just a statement.
Public relations won’t stop racism or end violence for good, but it can play an important role in public perception and combatting stereotypes, and that matters for historically marginalized groups.