The new Hate Crimes Act won’t go far enough

The U.S. House of Representatives passed The COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act on Tuesday, a promising step in addressing the alarming increase in violence and discrimination against Asian Americans that preceded, and was exacerbated by, the pandemic. 

According to the The Regulatory Reviewa publication associated with the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the number of reported hate crimes in the United States have decreased by about 7 percent last year, while reports of hate crimes against the AAPI community, increased by 149 percent. 

While there was large bipartisan support for the bill — the final vote was 364-62 — the votes against the bill were all Republicans. Next stop, President Biden’s desk. 

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, requires the Department of Justice to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19 and help law enforcement at every level collect better data on these crimes. But some stakeholders are concerned that the bill misses the mark.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re calling for a redistribution of wealth and resources into things like health care, and housing, social services, because we know that’s at the root of the violence that we see in our communities, is due to inequality,” Jason Wu, co-chair of the GAPIMNY-Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders told NBC Asian America. Wu’s organization was one of 85 AAPI and LGBTQ groups who signed a statement of concern. “The things that will keep us safe require us to think more long term and systemically about what the root causes of violence are.”

While the bill is an important step forward, the roots of anti-Asian bias are complex, intersectional, and steeped in history. And proving a racist motive against an Asian crime victim can be challenging from a legal perspective. Absent a recognizable symbol, like a swastika, or facing an alternative motive — like the late-night robbing of small store owner — things get murky. “There’s a recognizable prototype with anti-Black or anti-Semitic or anti-gay hate crime,” Lu-in Wang, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh tells the New York Times. “They’re often more clear-cut.”

Others worry that the newly bolstered police will target Black and Latinx communities, further exacerbating racial tensions with Asian communities. “I’ve rarely seen people who are more socially privileged be the ones accused of hate crimes,” says Anne Oredeko, an attorney with the racial justice unit at Legal Aid. “Often what you end up seeing is people of color being accused of hate crimes.”

Writer Jeff Yang says much of the tension between Asian and Black communities is by design. And it’s getting worse. “There’s an active effort being made to direct Asian American anger at the Black community, and it’s rooted in White establishment anxiety over emerging coalitions among the rising Black and Brown majority of the United States,” he says, citing misleading crime data circulated online in English and Chinese in an attempt to create a “Black on Asian crime” narrative.

In an attempt to set all the records all the way straight, an education campaign is launching today, May 19, the shared birthday of Japanese American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama and her friend Malcolm X.  (Kochiyama attended the speech where Malcolm X was fatally shot; a stunning photo captured her cradling his head in his lap as he died.) It’s a collaboration between numerous organizations, spearheaded by cultural historian Jeff Chang and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña. (Check out the entire backstory here.)

The campaign will highlight the long and productive solidarity between Black, Latinx, and AAPI communities.

Starting today and for the next two weeks, members of the #SolidarityIS project team will share a different mini-documentary exploring similarly iconic moments and relationships like the one shared by Kochiyama and Malcolm X. Yang says to get ready to learn: There’s a documentary about Frederick Douglass and his activism denouncing the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; one exploring the unique friendship between Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; one about Hmong activist Youa Vang Lee’s work on behalf of George Floyd. Lee’s own teenaged son was shot and killed by Minneapolis police in 2006, among many others.

The campaign comes just in time: As the hate crime legislation sets a new mandate in the Justice Department and beyond, it’s important to remember who and what the real enemy is. 

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Forward this newsletter to your CHRO, People or Diversity Officers, stat Fortune is hosting a Brainstorm Talent event designed to tackle last year’s crisis and workplace inequality head-on: People without access to education and economic resources bore the brunt of layoffs and frontline fatigue, while those with desirable digital and analytical skills remained employed. This session for talent leaders will address the measurable steps your organization can take to move frontline and entry-level workers into leadership roles; support crucial efforts to build diversity, equity, and inclusiveness at all levels; and ensure you retain and develop your top talent. Presented in partnership with Guild Education
Closing the Digital and Diversity Divide with an Upskilled Workforce
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
12:00–1:00 PM ET

Tennessee businesses will be forced to post signs saying they serve transgender customers—and not friendly, rainbow themed ones, either. The signs are designed to alarm cisgender patrons. LGBTQ Nation is calling the legislation, signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, “one of the cruelest anti-trans laws in the nation.” The signs must read: “This facility has a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.” In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said Tennesse’s H.B.1182 “will cause real harm to transgender Tennesseans.” Further, “Denying transgender people the ability to access a bathroom consistent with their gender identity is degrading and dehumanizing — and can have real health and safety consequences.”
LGBTQ Nation

The two-strikes of age discrimination for Black talent New research from Texas A&M University sheds new light on the age discrimination issue. Bias pops up for older workers, yes, but Black workers experience age discrimination at the start of their careers as well. Black workers are typically less likely to be hired than white workers with the same experience, which explains the alarming rate of young Black unemployment. It also gives white talent a significant head start on lifetime earnings. While the gap closes during middle age, it becomes a problem again for older workers, who find themselves overqualified for jobs later in their careers. The data paint a stark picture. “Black people have always been more objectified, scrutinized and surveilled than White people,” sociologist Matthew Hughey tells The Washington Post. “Every little thing is nitpicked on a résumé or explained as a possible red flag.”
The Washington Post

Black authors make inroads in the publishing industry Slowly, yes. Except for Black History Month, most primarily white publishing houses have been slow to add Black authors to their rosters. But says book reviewer Suzanne Van Atten, things are changing. “In recent years, the number of books written by Black authors that cross my desk at the AJC has swelled,” she writes. “The Black Lives Matter movement and media attention on the killing of unarmed Blacks by police officers has elevated interest in issues surrounding race and inequality,” but it’s provided a meaningful opportunity for writers in a variety of genre to gain traction.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


On background

The time that Isamu Noguchi visited a Japanese internment camp to be helpful and was then forced to stay Noguchi was already a well-known and highly sought-after sculptor and designer, working on large scale public projects like one in NYC’s Rockefeller Center, and sculpting portraits of the Hollywood elite. But when a Bureau of Indian Affairs official suggested the Los Angeles born artist set up an art center at the newly constructed Poston War Relocation Center, he agreed. It was only after he arrived that he realized that he too, was under suspicion, and the authorities would not let him leave. A fascinating profile of a profoundly optimistic and resilient spirt, who thrived despite the deep and bitter racism of his time. A must read.
The New Yorker

Reclaiming a nearly lost language Long before Europeans arrived in North America, the Ye Iswa lived along the banks of the Catawba River, along what would now be the border between North and South Carolina. Their name means "people of the river." The tribe is now known as Catawba, but their language, from which their original name is derived, is nearly lost. The last fluent speaker died in 1964.  DeLesslin "Roo" George-Warren, a young member of the tribe, has been given a grant to launch the Catawba Language Project and hopes to use modern technology to bring the language back. "I'm creating a learning app for the language and bringing Catawba words into material culture for the tribe," he told NBC. But he also hopes the project will address an immediate emergency: the epidemic of suicide in Native communities. "Study after study has found that in Native communities, having a sense of culture is one of the best preventions of suicide."
NBC News


This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

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RaceAhead-Grace Jones
Disco singer, model, and actress Grace Jones backstage at NYC's Tunnel nightclub, 1987. Happy birthday, Grace. Photo: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images
Gary Gershoff—Getty Images

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