To more fully understand how Covid-19 has affected the racial dynamics experienced by Asian professionals in the workplace, in their recent study, the authors interviewed and gathered stories from 35 professional working in a variety of industries, including finance, health care, technology, and higher education for three months. Participants included a mix of Asian American and Asian Canadian professionals, and the results apply to both groups. They uncovered several important findings about how racism against Asians manifests itself in the workplace and how Asians respond to these forms of discrimination – all of which underscore the need for leaders to help -heal race relations and create an organizational culture that is inclusive for all. .
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged any notion that Asian Americans are a privileged, white-fringe group above racism. The virus is easily racialized and labeled as a Asian virus of prominent leaders and politicians, amplifying the current undercurrents of racism toward Asian Americans.
To more fully understand how Covid-19 is affecting the racial dynamics experienced by Asian professionals in the workplace, in our recent study, we interviewed and gathered stories from 35 professionals working in a variety of industries, including finance, healthcare, technology, and higher education over the course of three months. Participants included a mix of Asian American and Asian Canadian professionals, and the results apply to both groups.
We uncovered several important findings about how racism against Asians manifests itself in the workplace and how Asians respond to these forms of discrimination — all of which underscore the need for leaders to help healing race relations and creating an inclusive organizational culture for all. .
What Microaggressions Look Like Against Asians at Work
Microaggressions are verbal and nonverbal slights that intentionally or unintentionally communicate hostile, harmful, or negative messages to certain individuals or groups. The prefix “micro” refers to the brevity of encounters and not the meaning or results associated with these momentary slights.
We found that racial discrimination against Asians emerged in four distinct ways, both overt and subtle comments and behaviors. Overt microaggressions are particularly alarming because of their clear and direct form, which is often considered taboo within organizations. We summarize what we found below.
- Describing Asians as a “yellow peril.” This form of overt microaggression emerges as clear comments from colleagues, supervisors, and clients that describe Asians as dirty and sick (e.g., “Asians carry the virus!”) and barbaric ( “Asians need to clean their food. It’s because they eat dog. !”), as illustrated by two quotes from our study.
- Bordering behavior that emphasizes group differences. This type of microaggression emerges as behaviors or comments that exacerbate group differences, creating a strong “us vs. them” dynamic. This manifests as physical avoidance in the form of telling an Asian colleague to sit far away from everyone else during a meeting or ordering an Asian employee to quarantine or stay home but not requesting the anyone else will do the same.
- Portraying Asians as a monolith. This type of microaggression is manifested as treating all Asians, regardless of their nationality and or ethnicity, as a Chinese entity who can speak for China (for example, singling out a Vietnamese American about China’s role in the pandemic).
- Denial of their experience of dealing with racism. This microaggression emerges as comments and behaviors that minimize or minimize the racial reality that Asians face and arises in two ways: 1) colleagues denying or trivializing the experience of an Asian employee facing a racially charged incident, and 2) denial at the organizational level, which manifests as organizational silence in the targeting and violence experienced by their Asian community during the height of the pandemic.
The Asian professionals we surveyed have not yet experienced the first two types of microaggressions (borderline attitudes and portrayal of Asians as a “yellow peril”) in the workplace. They all shared that this was something they experienced after Covid-19 was publicly declared as an Asian virus in the media. They also shared that although they had experienced two other forms of microaggressions (description of Asians as a monolith and denial of their experience of racism) before the pandemic, they noticed that Covid-19 magnified and increased them. . We have also seen threats of violence and actual violence, particularly against healthcare workers, highlighting frontline workers as a particularly vulnerable group.
Constantly experiencing these encounters is linked to many negative consequences. It mainly takes the form of negative emotion (eg, anger, frustration, and hopelessness) and reflection (ie, taking time to decipher and process microaggressions). In addition, health care workers shared that they felt a heightened sense of threat to their physical safety. Significantly, most of the participants shared that the denial and silence they experienced from their colleagues and leadership within their organizations made them feel diminished, invisible, and erased, highlighting how the silence in the organization to extraordinary that racism experienced by Asians can foster feelings of alienation.
How Asians Fight
Despite accepting the end of microaggressions, most of the Asians we interviewed showed acts of will and resilience. Participants shared three forms of responses:
- Confront the aggressor. Participants shared that they actively and openly confronted the aggressor to correct an unwanted or stigmatized identity. Examples include telling an aggressor “I belong here [the U.S.]” when the colleague mistakenly believed they were from China.
- Report the aggressor. Many participants reported the aggressors to management or HR to document exclusionary and racist behavior and escalate the situation.
- Talking about the racism they face. Participants shared that they openly discussed their experience with colleagues through informal discussions to raise awareness of their experiences navigating racism during Covid-19. One even spoke The Washington Post about their experiences to publicize the racism and extraordinary difficulties that Asian professionals are navigating during the pandemic.
By practicing these responses, many have reclaimed their identity and expressed how they want to be seen (“I am from [the U.S.]. I’m not going anywhere!”). We note that these individuals help to break the stereotype of Asians as passive, submissive, submissive, and quiet, choosing instead to present themselves as active and resilient individuals.
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Although the pandemic is almost over, it is secondhand effects in the form of racialized attitudes and behaviors toward Asians tend to persist, negatively affecting interracial interactions between Asians and most group members. As organizations and companies navigate the post-acute phase of the pandemic, it is important for leaders to remain mindful of the ongoing discrimination challenges facing their employees and colleagues in Asia.