The Movement Behind A Shrinking Hashtag

Student activists challenge the silent media on the Stop Asian Hate movement and persistent hate crimes. #StopAsianHate. What happens post-viral?

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 Johannah Seah stood with a sign in her hand and a chant on her lips. As one of those leading the protest, the Palo Alto High School junior and newly elected ASB president walked with the flood of others who all asked for the same thing — change. The Stop Asian Hate protest that took place May 2 in downtown Palo Alto was a turning point of action as hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community had continued to rise. Seah watched in horror as fear permeated the community, including her closest friends, family, and herself. Marching together symbolized the communal strength within the AAPI community as well as with their allies, yet Seah now claims that the action for which they called for does not seem to have been answered.

“I believe that there is a decline of media coverage because some people have simply moved on,” Seah said, “The issue got it’s screen time and it’s up now.”   

After nearly every media outlet covered this movement when the hashtag ‘StopAsianHate’ flooded phones of Palo Alto High School students in early May, attention is now elsewhere. Paly student activists are deeply concerned by how the silence of the media and once-active participants in the Stop Asian Hate movement do not align with the statistics suggesting there is still so much work to be done. 

According to the annual Hate Crime Statistics Report released by the FBI on Aug. 30, hate crimes against the AAPI community increased by 70% over the course of this year despite the overall annual decrease of hate crimes in the United States. The pandemic remains a driving contributor to the 48.1% of AAPI people who reported being victim to verbal harassment through the use of hateful ‘anti-China,’ ‘anti-immigrant,’ statements like ‘Kung Flu,’ and ‘Chinese Virus.’ In this year alone, Asian Americans reported being targeted 4,500 times, the report stated. What’s more, this data fails to account for the fact that the majority of hate crimes committed against the AAPI community were underreported as a result of online and political stigmatization, according to the report.

Kelly Tanaka, student activist and freshman at Paly, is deeply concerned about these numbers. 

“Seeing how the coverage of Asian Hate crimes declined without a decline in these acts of violence was just appalling,” Tanaka said. 

Tanaka said she believes that the earlier media coverage of hate against the AAPI community was a good way to get people aware of these ongoing issues, but progress has since stalled due to now that the Stop Asian Hate movement has stopped headlining. 

Another student who has been impacted by the Stop Asian Hate movement is Seah, who became especially involved in the Stop Asian Hate movement after the Atlanta shooting in March, where a 22-year-old white man shot and killed eight AAPI people at a day spa. He later confessed that these actions derived from a place of racially motivated hate, according to the Atlanta Police Department. 

“After reading about the Atlanta shooting I was emotionally wrecked for days,” Seah said. “I felt angry, distressed, and helpless.” 

Seah said that such prejudice reveals the great amount of progress that still needs to be made. To move toward justice, the Paly community needs more education on the issues facing the AAPI community and other marginalized groups, Seah said. 

The Dangers of Performative Activism 

According to Tanaka, the early media coverage and action towards stopping hate against Asians was relatively effective in further educating and encouraging people to take action alongside the Stop Asian Hate movement. It was when things took a decidedly performative turn that the good intentions of the person behind the screen began to stall any positive action, Tanaka said. 

“While social media isn’t the end-all-be-all of this issue, it definitely played a role in making this movement a talked-about subject,” Tanaka said. “While activism does have its upsides, there are definitely drawbacks such as how word of mouth can only go so far.”   

Seah’s take is similar: Platforms like Instagram have now made it easier than ever for people to post information without the action to back it up.

“When someone uses social media as their ‘woke homework’ and leaves it at that, or simply reposts without truly caring and understanding the issue, it can become problematic,” Seah said. 

 

Taking Action 

The Paly Asian American Student Union continues to take action against AAPI hate through its club meetings at Paly. Using the club’s active Instagram account as a way to provide followers with updates on the Stop Asian Hate Movement, co-president Hillary Cheung, a senior, is adamant on continuing the conversation on stopping hate against Asians. 

“I did think that media coverage aided in the Stop Asian Hate movement, specifically within social media, which allowed all people [young, old, etc.] to spread the word and promote activism,” Cheung said.

As Cheung sees it, continuing the conversation, continuing to properly educate others and ourselves on these issues, and recognizing personal privilege are the first few steps towards achieving societal justice reform. 

“It is often that although something is trending, people don’t really put anything into action,” Cheung said. “Once the ‘trend’ of support is over, people start forgetting about the issue and lose their passion for it.”  

These issues are not something that can be fixed by simply reposting something to your story. As Seah describes it, ending hate against Asians takes the ability to call out racism in classrooms, with friends, with family, and in the media. 

“Ending the structural violence towards Asian Americans means extensive education about Asian Americans in history and education, and unlearning false and offensive notions about Asian Americans,” Seah said. “When we all decide that Asian American issues and rights matter in our daily lives, we can continue to make changes on a governmental and systemic level.”