Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles Uprising. What’s changed? Not enough, especially according to one developer. Unilever brings new diversity to the metaverse; it’s time to invite white men to the diversity party, and more on hybrid work. All that, and Jonathan Vanian kickstarts our AAPI History Month coverage with a wrenching look at the experience of Asian American business owners during COVID.
AAPI History Month begins on Sunday, and not a moment too soon.
This year, I will continue to cover the rise in violent attacks against people of Asian descent in the U.S., and the devastating impact on families, communities, and the workforce.
It’s time for a real reckoning, say experts. Violence and exclusion have always been part of the Asian American experience. “Part of American culture has been minimizing and pretending discrimination against Asian Americans can’t and does not exist,” Ayesha Ghazi Edwin, chair of the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (MAPAAC), told PBS.
But this is also a time to highlight the enormous strides taken by AAPI activists, researchers, policy experts, and corporate advocates whose organizing work has begun to bear fruit—including new resolutions condemning racist attacks, new approaches to policing, and calls to teach of AAPI history (all of it) in public schools.
So, that’s what’s on my mind. What’s on yours? What do we need to understand to be better allies and advocates? What do you need to know to more deeply consider the needs of your AAPI colleagues and their families?
Keep the inspiration coming my way, subject line: Stop AAPI Hate
Wishing you a weekend of fun with good friends.
The world has not been kind to Asian American business owners since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A survey of Asian American business owners conducted by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at The University of California, Los Angeles in August 2021 found that 74.6% of respondents felt that Asian-American racism has become more prevalent since the start of the pandemic. The leading reasons for the racism include Asians being blamed for the coronavirus and the offensive rhetoric from former President Donald Trump, who referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”
Paul Ong, the director of the center, shared with Fortune an updated survey of how Asian American business owners have fared since the original report was conducted. The latest survey, conducted in December 2021, showed that many Asian American-owned businesses that suffered financially from the pandemic are still struggling.
About 56% of the respondents said they were negatively impacted and have partially recovered, while 22% said they have not recovered at all, the survey said. Only 16% said they have completely recovered, while 6% said they were never impacted.
As Fortune has previously reported, many Chinese restaurants experienced a major drop in customers due to the racist associations of COVID-19 with Chinese immigrants.
Additionally, Asian American business owners faced significant challenges obtaining financial assistance from banks and participating in the federal Paycheck Protection Program intended to help small businesses during the pandemic, Ong explains. These Asian American small business owners were unlikely to have the deep relationships with established banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America that could provide them with financial assistance, Ong says.
“They did not have the same sort of access to capital, whether it's long-term capital or rotating credit, and so forth,” Ong says. “And so they started from a much weaker position.”
Many small Asian businesses “were started by families or individuals pooling their money together,” he says. As a result, these owners may not have the same credit history as their white counterparts, which hurts their ability to receive loans.
And Asian American immigrants who may lack strong English language skills continue to face big challenges communicating with the major banks during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some of them have gotten smart and they started hiring loan officers who are Asian, but you know, we’re a bit away from the barriers being completely overcome,” Ong says about some banks that have hired staff that can communicate to Asian American business owners.
All of this means that not only have Asian American businesses experienced racist insults and even violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’ve also been cut off from the existing financial system.
And the existing fear of being attacked is still strong among Asian American workers.
“You have to look over your shoulders while you're stocking your shelves,” Ong says of Asian American shop owners and workers.
For Asian Americans who have been running consumer-facing stores during the pandemic, Ong compares what they are going through with Midwest shop owners spending time and money preparing for tornado season. When tornado season finally arrives “you're always sort of looking over your shoulder,” Ong says.
“So, imagine that you have to live with that every season, every day—you know, the fear of being harmed by something,” Ong says of what many Asian American business owners are experiencing.
“And so, it wears on you, I think,” he says.
Unilever brings diversity to the metaverse On April 26, Degree, Unilever’s popular deodorant brand, held a “marathon” in the metaverse that covered 26.2 virtual miles of the Vegas City Sports Quarter, which is part of the Decentraland virtual platform. The designers created mobility wearables—running blades, wheelchairs, and prostheses—that allowed participants to adorn their avatars accordingly. The Degree Metathon also welcomed Paralympic Athlete Blake Leeper and hip-hop artist and musician Fat Joe (Joseph Antonio Cartagena). As fun as all of this sounds, the aim is to create a more inclusive metaverse going forward, including audio descriptions and a wider array of avatar body options.
White men have been left out of the diversity conversation and it’s increasingly becoming a focus of diversity professionals. We should have seen this coming. According to the White Men’s Leadership Study, groundbreaking research which analyzed white male attitudes toward diversity way back in 2012, nearly 70% reported feeling “forgotten” by diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, which meant they’d be less likely to engage. Fast forward a decade, there’s still a wide population of senior leaders feeling like they’re being attacked, says Lily Zheng, a diversity and inclusion strategist. “‘It seems like I’m not wanted in the room when D&I conversations start happening,’ one person told me. ‘It feels like I’m part of the problem,’ another said in frustration. And a third, in a rare admission of a common sentiment said: ‘It seems like everyone is out to get the white guys.’”
Who likes hybrid work? Well, most people do. But according to this research from McKinsey, it’s a universal positive for underrepresented groups. Employees with disabilities were 11% more likely to prefer flexible work than their non-disabled peers, nonbinary employees were 14% more likely to prefer hybrid than their cisgender peers (though it’s still pretty popular across genders) and LGBTQ+ were 13% more likely to say they preferred hybrid work than their heterosexual peers. Points deducted for not polling AAPI employees, but there are some good strategies for thinking through hybrid work and inclusion goals.
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ashley Sylla.
On Background: The Los Angeles Riots
Today is the 30th anniversary of what is now known as the Los Angeles Uprising, a spontaneous burst of anger that erupted after four white police officers were acquitted in the brutal beating of Rodney King—the first ever such event caught on video. The video of the attack, which left King with permanent brain damage, led to cries for reform within the LAPD, and resulted in the creation of the Christopher Commission, to investigate allegations of institutional racism and excessive force within the department.
It should have been a watershed moment for police violence, but no.
“In 1992, I think people that had not directly experienced police violence saw something that shocked them; I think communities that were used to police violence were like, ‘thank God someone finally understands what’s happening,’” says Aaron Roussell, sociologist and author of The Limits of Community Policing: Civilian Power and Police Accountability in Black and Brown Los Angeles, told Time. “But I don’t know that the promise of that has been borne out.”
Honoring the Korean American experience of the uprising Korean Americans refer to the day the violence started as “Saigu” — more on that below. Businesses were looted, some 50 people were killed, and the community sustained over $1 billion in damage. An alliance of Black and AAPI organizations has been organizing community events to heal, reflect, and to ensure the history is understood. “Saigu has become almost like a memorial for Korean Americans,” Connie Chung Joe, chief executive officer of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles, told NBC. “It’s a moment of profound sadness and loss, of feeling so targeted and so abandoned.”
NBC Asian American
More on Saigu The name is actually sa-i-gu, for the date it all started: 4-2-9. For the 25th anniversary, many of the former kids who watched as their elders were attacked and the community destroyed, were determined to share their own stories of what the riots meant to and for them. The Los Angeles Times profiles two of them. One, actor and filmmaker Justin Chon, created a gritty, black and white film called Gook, which got some notice at that year’s Sundance. “The Korean American experience isn’t going to get told,” he says. “If I don’t take it upon myself to make even the cheap, cheap iPhone version, we’ll never have an opportunity to tell our side of the story.”
Los Angeles Times
For today’s college kids, the Rodney King beating was NBD “If you want to feel old, teach.” So begins this post from a nice-sounding guy named Ed, who describes himself as an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Midwestern Liberal Arts University. In an attempt to raise a discussion of Rodney King and the L.A. uprising, he was dismayed to discover that his students just shrugged after watching the grainy video. “This is a generation of kids so numb to seeing videos of police beating, tasering, shooting, and otherwise applying the power of the state to unarmed and almost inevitably black or Hispanic men that they legitimately could not understand why a video of cops beating up a black guy (who *didn't even die* for pete's sake!) was shocking enough to cause a widespread breakdown of public order,” he writes.
Gin and Tacos
The fast track to gentrification The neighborhood defined by West Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles, known as West Adams, is a chronically under-resourced community of Black and Latinx residents. It’s been tested before: It was the curfew line during the Watts uprising in 1965, and still shows the damage from the 1992 uprising. And now, it’s the focus of a single developer, with a 10-year plan to “flip” the entire community and erase it entirely. “Because of [develop Shaul Kuba], a neighborhood formerly occupied by auto mechanics, upholsterers, and pipefitters, and long plagued by gang violence, now has its own Szechuan noodle joint, a vinyl record shop, and a $200-a-night boutique hotel. White millennials who work in booming Culver City sip matcha drinks and walk their labradoodles on the boulevard, even at night, babbling obliviously on AirPods.”
“It was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video.”
— President George H.W. Bush, addressing the nation on May 1, 1992.