Three Asian American leaders of the Penn and broader Philadelphia community convened Wednesday for a virtual panel discussion about issues of anti-racism and solidarity between the Black and Asian American communities.
The Wednesday event, titled “Stopping the Hate and Starting to Heal: Living With and Through the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was the first in a series of panels hosted by the Pan-Asian American Community House. Although the event intended to focus on the increase in bias and violence directed toward people of Asian descent during the pandemic, much of the conversation instead focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and issues of anti-Blackness within the Asian American community following the police murder of George Floyd.
More than 200 people tuned into the panel, which featured 1993 College graduate and Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym, 2008 Perelman School of Medicine graduate, criminologist and community activist Cliff Akiyama, and Counseling and Psychological Services’ Multilingual Psychologist Yuhong He.
In addition to PAACH, the panel was co-hosted by Penn Global, the Asian American Studies Program, and the University of Pennsylvania Task Force on Providing Support to Asian and Asian American Students and Scholars. Rising College senior and PAACH leader Shaina Zafar moderated the panel discussion and subsequent question and answer session.
The event began with a discussion of anti-Asian racism in the context of COVID-19.
Akiyama said anti-Asian sentiments are deeply rooted in American history, citing the Chinese massacre of 1871, and has profound effects on the mental health of Asian Americans.
"When we think about physical assault, we know what kind of consequences it may have,” he said. “Racism is a kind of assault."
Referring to the model minority myth, Gym said it is important to dismantle the associated idea that success can be achieved through hard work alone, and that "whiteness" is the goal for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
He said it is important for Asian Americans to recognize that there is differential treatment among historically underrepresented communities based on skin color. Referencing the recent murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, Gym said Asian Americans must recognize they do not face the same danger of police brutality as Black Americans and stand with the Black community in solidarity against systemic violence.
"I think we would be living a lie if we thought we were innocent bystanders to all of this," Gym said. “We do not win these battles of institutional power by ourselves".
Zafar concluded the panel by reflecting that she always finds herself realizing that there is more to learn.
"It's not like you're being perfect or right at any given moment," said Gym. "It's a journey towards public trust; it's a long journey towards understanding concepts of justice; it's a long journey towards mistakes, and things that you do wrong and other people do wrong to you."