Since the beginning of the pandemic, approximately 3,800 Asian hate incidents have been reported in the United States. These incidents include physical assault, civil rights violations, verbal harassment, shunning, and online harassment. of these incidents, 67% were reported by Asian women — more than twice that of Asian men.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, the number of self-reported incidents represents a “fraction of hate incidents that actually occur.” There are approximately 12.7 million Asian women in the United States, representing almost 4% of the population. Out of the 12.7 million Asian women in our country, if only 2,546 Asian women reported these incidents, then only 0.02% of them were able to ask for help.
The unreported incidents result from the perpetuation of the model-minority myth for Asians and Asian women, in particular. This American construct reinforces the image and stereotype that Asians are hardworking, independent, intelligent, and economically prosperous. This myth also ignores the fact that Asians are not one monolithic group. Lumping together, for example, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, or Indonesian people diminishes each subpopulation’s culture and language. The most destructive part of this myth is the wedge that divides Asians and other communities of color to disrupt inter-racial solidarity. This wedge makes society think that Asians do not have needs and challenges that warrant government policy corrections. Asian Americans have the most significant income disparity of any ethnic group in America, with the top 10% earning more than ten times more than the bottom 10%. Many Asian women today work in very low-wage service occupations.
For Asian women, this model-minority myth has a profound negative impact. It renders us invisible in the meaningful discussions around toxic relationships, job equality and societal gaslighting. For us, this myth is even more dangerous because it hides issues that should be discussed openly, such as sexual objectification, poverty, labor abuse, domestic violence, hate crimes and mental health.
Asian women are at the intersection of racism and objectification. Racism renders Asian women as objects and easy targets for physical violence, unseen and unnoticed, even when attacked on the busy streets of New York City and San Francisco. The internet, TV, magazines and films portray Asian women as submissive, demure, exotic or hypersexual. As the world saw in Atlanta, this stereotyping has deadly consequences. The simple image of an Asian woman is being used to justify sex addiction and murder. The lives of six Asian women were senselessly cut short, women who were working to support their families. The increasing number of Asian women being killed, assaulted or harassed is unacceptable and outrageous.
My experience as an elected official in San Mateo County has been mostly positive, and I love serving my community. Unfortunately, as an Asian American woman, I have also personally experienced the dark side of public service. I have received racial slurs via email and have been objectified with graphic sexist smears, including accusations that I would use my body, my attire and my makeup to win votes and support. Asian women continue to face racist and sexist tropes, no matter our position, title or socioeconomic status. Therefore, now more than ever, we are vulnerable targets of violence and online harassment.
To combat this racism and objectification, our voices must be heard and amplified. For the past six years, I’ve had the privilege and honor of serving on two elected boards in San Mateo County. But, according to the Bay Area Equity Atlas, neither women nor Asians are well represented in San Mateo County. Asians make up 27% of San Mateo County’s population, yet I am the only countywide Asian elected official in San Mateo County. Women are equally underrepresented, especially in countywide elected office. As one of the few Asian women in elected office in San Mateo County, I want more dialogue on how to support and protect Asian women in our community. As a mother, wife and businesswoman, I want to ensure that economic policies and government support services proactively include Asian women. The model-minority myth must be shattered. Please consider this message to our community an invitation to join me in this conversation.
Virginia Chang Kiraly serves on two elected boards as president of the San Mateo County Harbor District Board of Commissioners and a director of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors.
She is a wife, mother, businesswoman, community volunteer and the daughter of Chinese immigrants.