AAPI: Anti-Asian Violence & Discrimination (with Janelle Wong)

AAPI: Anti-Asian Violence & Discrimination (with Janelle Wong)

In this episode, Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park Janelle Wong talks with students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy about anti-Asian violence and discrimination in America.

FEATURING Janelle Wong
May 21, 2021



In this episode, Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park Janelle Wong talks with students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy about anti-Asian violence and discrimination in America.

About Janelle Wong:

Janelle Wong is Professor of American Studies and a core faculty member in the Asian American Studies Program. From 2001-2012, Wong was in the Departments of Political Science and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She received her PhD in 2001 from the Department of Political Science at Yale University. Wong is also a Senior Researcher at AAPI Data.

Learn more about Janelle Wong via

Podcast Highlights:

“The research I do at AAPI data shows that many Asian Americans as well as people from other racial groups don't feel confident in or are reluctant to report a hate crime to law enforcement.”

-        Janelle Wong on the topic of why hate crime data is not necessarily representative.

“Ethnic studies programs and trying to institute more coursework and substantive content on not only Asian American history and engagement, but also in the kinds of discrimination Asian American communities have faced can be implemented at the local level...”

-       Janelle Wong on the topic of what can be done at the local level to support the AAPI community.

“Hate crime legislation alone is not going to solve our problems.”

-       Janelle Wong on the topic of focusing on more than hate crime when discussing ways to help the AAPI community.


Janelle Wong (Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park)


Maddie Bunting (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Chief Ambassador)

Jenny Chen (UCR MPP Candidate, Dean’s Ambassador)

Music by:

C Codaine

Commercial Links:

This is a production of the UCR School of Public Policy:

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  • AAPI: Anti-Asian Violence & Discrimination (with Janelle Wong)

    Introduction: Welcome to Policy Chats, the official podcast of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside. I’m your host, Maddie Bunting. Join me and my classmates as we learn about potential policy solutions for today’s biggest societal challenges.


    Joining us today is University of Maryland College Park Professor Dr. Janelle Wong. My fellow classmate, Jenny, and I chatted with her about anti-Asian violence and discrimination. 


    Maddie Bunting: Dr. Wong, You are a professor of American Studies, Government and Politics and a core faculty member in the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. You're also a senior researcher at AAPI data, a publisher of demographic data and policy research on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Thank you so much for being here today. 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: Great to be here. 


    Maddie Bunting: So I'd love to just jump into the topic. The US has seen an increase in anti-Asian violence amid the ongoing pandemic and analysts have noted that hate crime data and maybe an insufficient tool for fully capturing the spike. Do you agree with this? 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: Yeah, I think there's long been awareness in advocacy communities that hate crime data is limited, partly because of reporting. So our research, the research idea with Karthick Ramakrishnan, one of your faculty members, who is the founder and director of AAPI data show that many Asian-Americans as well as other racial groups, people from other racial groups don't feel confident in or are reluctant to report a hate crime to law enforcement in particular. So there are other kinds of ways that people report experiences with racial bias and also racialized violence. And so we have been doing some of that work through survey data. Again, that's not perfect either. But we get a slightly different picture because it doesn't just rely on people kind of getting motivated to advocate for themselves through an inefficient channel. But this is a way to contact many people, some of whom have had those experiences, others who haven't. And then we get a better sense based on who answered our questions about who might have or might not have experienced a hate crime. 


    Jenny Chen: The fatal shooting at three spas in the Atlanta area took eight lives too soon. Six out of the individuals were women from asian descent. Debate about whether the shooting was racially motivated continues to be highly politicized. What are your thoughts on this and the effects it has on the Asian community? 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: Yes. So that shooting has now been... the shooter has now been charged with a hate crime. And that charge not only includes targeting the victims based on their national origin, but also on their gender. And so I think that incident really raises up is the multiple ways in which people are vulnerable. And so we know that those victims were, of course, six of them were Asian American. But they were all still vulnerable due to their economic position as frontline workers who were placed in this more precarious position because they were out there having to make a living through a kind of risky, even in terms of health reasons, kind of risky, interfacing with the public during the pandemic. And then also their gender made them a target. And so I think that discussion has gotten deeper because of especially community organizations in Atlanta were very intentional about not only focusing on the victim's race, but also their gender and economic status and immigrant status. 


    Maddie Bunting: Following that unfortunate, unacceptable incident, President Biden announced additional actions to respond to anti-Asian violence, xenophobia, and bias. These actions build on the President's memorandum condemning and combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance  against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, issued during his first week in office. Are these executive actions symbolic or impactful in your opinion? 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: I mean, that's a great question for those of you in the School of Public Policy. There is so much, I think, so much of a live conversation around that very question in the Asian-American community. And to raise up some of the tensions in the community there is this discussion over whether an executive action is symbolic or not, but also whether what kind of legislation makes sense, does any? Do hate crime laws prevent hate crimes? That's a question for those of you in public policy. There's a very important debate going on in terms of whether law enforcement should be involved at all. Because maybe that doesn't get to the roots of the problem. So some say that many of the street crimes we've been seeing are not necessarily going to be countered by, let's say, increasing police presence that's only going to especially hurt black and brown communities that have been oppressed and targeted by police violence. But instead, maybe a kind of deeper investment in community health. That is more social services, more mental health services, more anti-poverty programs, programs to really try to confront racial segregation. Those kinds of programs might be more meaningful and effective in terms of really getting to the root of the kind of violence we're seeing, not just in Asian American community. So I've now seen quite a bit of data from different sources that shows that not only are Asian-Americans experiencing an uptick in violence since the start of the pandemic. But black communities are experiencing the same levels of hate crimes and racialized violence and then also Native American communities. And then of course, we know that especially Latinx communities have been very hard hit by xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. And so, you know, how should we, as those who are interested in effective public policies, really get to the root of some of these expressions and consequences of racialized hate in the US. And sure, there's really a clear answer yet, whether the answer is through executive action and focus on law enforcement or whether we should really be turning to more systemic and long-term solutions.


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    Maddie Bunting: I agree. I do think systemic change is necessary for so many groups in America. I'm curious at the local level, if you have any advice for local change makers or just a neighbor or a friend. What can we do to help the AAPI community? 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: Yeah, So this has also been important around the country, we’ve seen many presentations and efforts to engage local communities in this broader discussion of discrimination and bias against Asian Americans. But also, you know, kind of in the wake of the George Floyd murder, there's a lot of attention to just racial, systemic, racial inequality more generally. And specific to the Asian American community, you know, I think that are especially students who are starting to get very active, and I'm sure this is the case in Riverside, around ethnic studies programs. And I'm trying to institute more coursework and substantive content on not only Asian-American history, Asian-American political engagement, but also in the kinds of discrimination that Asian American communities have based. But also to introduce that content in relation to other kinds of ethnic studies topics and to help people in general, but especially students to understand this kind of diverse racial landscape that we are all immersed in. So that's one thing that I've seen at the local level. In addition, having more resources provided to especially targeted outreach programs that are in language, both in terms of Asian languages and Spanish and African languages. And so that kind of deeper communication between government entities and local communities, I think is critically important as well. 


    Jenny Chen: Yeah, I agree. Building trust at the local level can really help the community strengthen and politically motivate the community to also push for legislation in their favor to decrease anti hate crimes. So my next question is about representation at the federal level. 15% of all appointees identified as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in President Biden’s administration. Do you believe representation at the federal level will help shine a light on the needs of the AAPI community and is it enough? 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: Yeah, I think that again, this has been a hot topic among, in Asian American communities about at what level is that representation robust? For instance, there's been a lot of complaints that there hasn't been an Asian American member of the Cabinet, even though there are quite a few appointees in the administration. And from my perspective, I think that it is critically important to have representation at different levels of elected office and appointed office in our government of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as well. And I think that that can only go so far. What really matters is the substantive policies that are generated. And I think there is some good evidence that having more diverse representation in elected offices and in government agencies and in different kinds of local positions does make a difference in terms of the substance of those policies. But of course, those of you in public policy do know very well that when the rubber hits the road, it is really about the kinds of policies that are generated and whether they are forwarding the interests of the community. I think it's not an either or that of course, you know, we see that the two often go hand in hand. That descriptive representation can and often does lead to substantive representation. 


    Maddie Bunting: Yes, that's a really wonderful way to put it. Thank you for sharing that. The United States recently passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act by an overwhelming majority. I'm curious if you were surprised by this and if you are optimistic that the country will see further bi-partisan support of the AAPI community.


    Dr. Janelle Wong: I have mixed feelings about that legislation and partly because I think that in many cases we have seen that there's been a reluctance to pass hate crime legislation or to recognize hate incidents especially against other communities like Muslim Americans in the wake of 9/11 for instance. But at the same time, I think they're so…. I feel very mixed about it. I think that it could be effective. It's certainly not- hate crime legislation alone is not going to solve our problems. And so I hate to see so much energy going into passing that legislation. When, you know, I think it may be one part of a solution, but it's certainly not enough. And so I would like to see, I think, a broader agenda with regard to racial justice more generally, including for the Asian American community. And I do think that the focus on hate crimes really is one of more interpersonal violence, but doesn't get at other kinds of deep inequalities in our community that were exemplified by the Atlanta shooting. So inequalities having to do with occupational status. economics status, gender. That kind of deep persistent, these kinds of deep persistent inequalities are not going to be addressed by hate crime legislation. So while I'm not personally opposed to that legislation, as long as it does not lead to more police enforcement, I guess, then I just think that we need to do more and better on that front. 


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    Jenny Chen: So what policies do you believe should be enacted to further help AAPI citizens?


    Dr. Janelle Wong: Yeah, so I think there's a way of thinking more broadly as I've mentioned, about the kind of policies that could help Asian-Americans and those have to do with enhancing ethnic studies in our public education system. Again, not just for Asian Americans, but more deeply across different groups. And also, I think community liaisons being institutionalized in local government that can provide a hub for immigrant communities, Asian American communities, and other communities of color. So community liaisons who have cultural kind of awareness and who are sensitive to the needs of particular minoritized communities. And, you know, thinking our immigration policies to ensure that dictations are, we take a close look at our deportation policies and to really protect those who are in the US who shouldn't be deported. So that, you know, that's part of a larger discussion about other kinds of anti-Asian violence that are taking place outside of the hate crimes context. 


    Maddie Bunting: That’s so important, I love you're talking about hate crimes as one issue, but it doesn't represent all of the issues that are going on. 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: I think it's also critical to know that hate crimes are. Most of the research is showing that maybe up to in the last year, in the last year, the 2021, the first months of 2021. And about our data show about 10 percent other data show about 17 percent of Asian Americans have experienced anti-Asian discrimination. Most of that is not violence. It is, you know, only a small, like 10 percent of that proportion is actual physical violence. And so we're talking about a very, in some ways, very small part of the problem. Yet, you know, the kind of poverty, educational access, that those barriers are much more widespread across our community, across other communities. And so putting all of our energy into solving the problem of racialized violence is still leaving a lot of other kinds of discrimination unaddressed. I think that's something we want to take away from this moment. 


    Maddie Bunting: Definitely. Well, Dr. Wong, you're so well spoken and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and opinions. And I learned so much. And I just hope, unfortunately, this pandemic and that the traces to Han China have hurt the Asian American community and I hope that out of this really awful situation, we can hopefully see that we need to help the entire community and focus on that discrimination and bias that so many experience every day. So thank you for speaking out on this topic and I hope our listeners and those watching will take a lot away from this conversation. So thank you so much for joining us today. 


    Dr. Janelle Wong: Thank you, Maddie and Jenny! Have a great day.

    Outro: This podcast is a production of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy. Our theme music was produced by C Codaine. I'm Maddie Bunting, till next time.