December 6, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘The Growing Power of Asian-Americans in Georgia Now Comes With Fear’

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Note to Teachers: This lesson deals with anti-Asian violence and racism. To prepare yourself and your students, you might first read “Addressing Anti-Asian Racism With Students” from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center or “Responding to Anti-Asian Violence and Georgia Shootings from Learning for Justice. Depending on your identity, and the identity of your students, this guide “Self-Care Tips For Asian-Americans Dealing With Racism Amid Coronavirus” from HuffPost might be helpful.

We also suggest ideas for facilitating this type of lesson in our guide “Resources for Teaching About Race and Racism With The New York Times.For example, before you begin, you might take a “temperature check” to see how your students are feeling about having this conversation.

Featured Article: “The Growing Power of Asian-Americans in Georgia Now Comes With Fear” by Sabrina Tavernise

On Tuesday evening, eight people were killed when a man opened fire in three separate Atlanta-area massage parlors. Six of the victims were of Asian descent, and the gunman was white. The motive behind the killings has not been determined; however, Alex Wan, the first Asian-American elected to the Atlanta City Council, said: “Whatever the justification was, the fact is, it was Asian women who were killed. Everything that’s been swirling around, all this anti-Asian sentiment has come to a head with the worst possible thing — murders.”

Anti-Asian racism is not new, but the shooting comes amid a rising tide of anti-Asian incidents nationwide since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In this lesson, you will learn more about what happened in Atlanta, the history of anti-Asian sentiment around disease and how the recent violence has affected Asian-Americans in Georgia. Then, we invite you to reflect on the role the government and ordinary people, like you, can play in ending anti-Asian discrimination.

Part 1: What is this photo saying?

The photograph below was taken by Rebecca Wong, 17, from Tenafly, N.J., for The Learning Network’s Coming of Age Contest and was featured in the article “Teens on a Year That Changed Everything.” Look closely at the photograph and then respond to the following questions:

  • What do you notice about the photo? What do you wonder?

  • What do you think this image is saying? How does it relate to society or current events? Can you relate to it personally?

  • What thoughts and emotions come up for you as you look at the image?

Now, read Rebecca’s artist statement:

2020 didn’t ignite the waves of Asian racism. It was already there.

I’ve seen the Asian community strive to be “more American.” I saw my family disassociate themselves from the community. I purposefully never learned Cantonese in hopes of making myself “more American.” I thought it was in my best interest. I erased my own culture willingly in hopes of fitting in — it’s always purposeful whitewashing, the strive to Americanize in hopes to be accepted.

But you’ll still see the person I tried to erase. I cannot wash my culture away; it will always stay. The racism will always stay. At least paint is washable.

How do her words change or add to your understanding of the image?

Part 2: Learn more about the historical context of this moment.

Rebecca writes: “2020 didn’t ignite the waves of Asian racism. It was already there.” To learn more about this history, watch a three-minute video from The San Francisco Chronicle, “‘This is Not New’: Anti-Asian Xenophobia has a Long History in the U.S.

Then, respond to the following questions:

  • What are two things that you learned from the video?

  • What are two questions that you have about anti-Asian sentiment and violence, either historically or at present?

If you would like more background information on the recent Atlanta shooting, read this short article that outlines what we know and do not know.

Read the article and then answer the following questions:

1. How is the story of Asian immigration to Atlanta similar to other stories of immigration in American history? What parallels can you draw between Alex Wan’s story and your own family’s story, or other immigration stories you know?

2. How does the shooting at the three Atlanta-area massage parlors fit into a larger pattern of increasing anti-Asian hate that organizations such as Stop AAPI Hate have been documenting?

3. The article reports that in Atlanta, as in the rest of the United States, Asians are not the homogeneous group they are sometimes described as being. What do the demographics and individual stories cited in the article tell us about the diversity of Asian experiences in this country?

4. In what ways have Asian people in Atlanta been influential politically and culturally?

5. How do activists and community members want their elected officials to respond to the recent killings and rising anti-Asian hate?

Option 1: Discuss: Is rising anti-Asian sentiment “an American problem”?

The article ends with this quote from Baoky Vu, a former commissioner to George W. Bush’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the 1970s:

“You have to stand up for justice. This is not just an Asian-American problem. This is an American problem.”

Discuss with your classmates, or respond on your own in writing:

  • What is your reaction to Mr. Vu’s words? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

  • In what ways is rising anti-Asian sentiment in the United States an “American problem”? In what ways is racism against Asian-Americans similar to racism against other groups? In what ways is it distinct?

  • What do you think “standing up for justice” should look like in this case? What kinds of actions should be taken on an individual, community and national level?

Option 2: Listen to a podcast.

Listen to the first 22 minutes of “The Daily” podcast episode “A Murderous Rampage in Georgia” with guest Nicole Hong, a reporter covering New York law enforcement, courts and criminal justice. Ms. Hong examines the ways the legal system has struggled, and often failed, to recognize anti-Asian hate.

After listening, respond to these questions:

  • What is one thing that surprised you from the podcast? What is one question you still have?

  • According to Ms. Hong, why is it that violence against Asian-Americans is not often labeled a hate crime?

  • How have Asian-Americans around the United States reacted to the murders in Atlanta?

  • What is the historical context of anti-Asian sentiment and violence?

Option 3: Take action.

Take a few moments to reflect: How comfortable do you feel talking about race and racism? Have you ever experienced anti-Asian racism or discrimination? Have you witnessed someone using an anti-Asian racial slur or expressing anti-Asian hate at your school or in your community?

Now brainstorm ways you can take care of your own well-being, support your community and take action to end anti-Asian discrimination. Some ideas you might consider:

  • If you are Asian or Asian-American, how can you care for your mental and emotional health right now? Are there certain foods that nourish your soul? Does talking to a friend or reading a book help calm your mind? Can you take a walk or play a sport to center your body?

  • Are there any actions — protests, vigils or discussions — happening at your school or within your community around rising anti-Asian sentiment? How can you get involved in something that is already happening?

  • How can you help educate family members or friends who might not know as much about the issue? If you’re concerned about broaching the subject because your family or friends view it differently from you, take a look at this advice about engaging in difficult conversations with family members.

For more suggestions of what you can do, including creating a self-care tool kit and learning how to be a better ally, see the “Going Further” section of our lesson, “A Rise in Attacks on Asian-Americans.”

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