Reflections on East Asian Heritage Month

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Hannah Kang

June 24, 2021

The month of May was Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a celebration and coming together of communities across a huge range of backgrounds. It did, however, come to us amidst significant adversities, with the continued rise of Anti-Asian racism and hate crimes, unrelenting pandemic-related discrimination, and humanitarian crises in India. The month provided a platform and an opportunity, however, to bring communities together and voice experiences and support within and across borders. 

Earlier in the year, and in light of surging hate crimes, violent incidents, and assault against Asian-Americans in the U.S., on top of reported racial abuse against Tottenham Hotspurs player Son Heung-Min, Cutover CEO Ky Nichol shared a statement denouncing anti-Asian hate and racism and expressing Cutover’s solidarity with the Asian Cutover community. 

This year, for the first time, the Cutover community, including employees from many different backgrounds, was able to celebrate Asian Heritage Month across all global locations. Ellen Wang and I, with support from our Operations Lead Kate Hughes-Jones, worked together to organize events that highlighted some of the key issues faced by the Asian community at the moment, but also to explore more of the underlying elements of cultural differences that all of us can be more mindful of. These events posed some stark questions and provided the platform for all of us to learn more about what is happening and what can be done. Not least, it was also a way of celebrating an open discussion with people from a diverse set of backgrounds, family history, culture, and heritage. 

Cultural Awareness - Dr Lim

 

Our opening fireside chat involved an enlightening conversation with Dr. Hyun-Joo Lim of Bournemouth University, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, covering racism and public/private biases against East Asians in the UK. The session was designed to raise awareness among Cutover employees about the Asian experience, and facilitate discussion around unconscious biases and stereotypes. Dr. Lim’s insights also covered the importance of recognizing diversity for a business’s bottom line and the steps that many organizations can take to get there. The prevailing point highlighted in the session was that for a business to operate successfully in a global environment, it needs to be sensitive to the cultural differences of its employees and clients. The discussion highlighted behaviors that many may not see as inherently racist or malicious but which can build barriers between people. For example, mistaking Asian employees for each other, or assuming Asian employees are all technical or analytical. This was reiterated in a Cutover employee discussion the following week. We’ll come to that in more detail, but it’s important to highlight some of the stark realities Dr. Lim shared with us, first.

  • There has been a 300% increase in COVID-19 related hate crimes towards East and SouthEast Asian (ESEA) people since the pandemic (VICE World News, 2021)
  • 1 in 7 people in the UK intentionally avoid people of Chinese origin or appearance (Ipsos MORI 2020)
  • Almost 75% of people of ESEA descent have experienced COVID-related verbal abuse and physical assaults in the last year (YouGov 2020)

 

Racism against ESEA people in UK since Covid19 - Dr Lim

 

The following week, we opened up the forum and had an incredible discussion with several Cutover colleagues of Asian descent, sharing experiences and perspectives from the workplace, general life, family life and expectations, and recommendations for better awareness within organizations. It was an insightful session and allowed everybody to not only find common ground but also learn from each other and share experiences and best practices. It set the bar for company interactions of this kind and encouraged open and honest conversation which will now continue on a more regular basis. 

 

What can be done to increase inclusivity of ESEA people in UK - Dr Lim

 

The session highlighted some interesting perspectives and experiences including: 

  • Having a wake-up call that there is a certain image of Asian-Americans that you might not be aware of until you’re in a certain environment - it’s easy to stereotype, and everyone’s journey involves to some level a degree of reconciling a culture you grew up with at home, and the assumptions people have of you outside of that home. 
  • Being ‘Asian’ is a huge category! There is so much diversity within that umbrella term that needs more acknowledgment and understanding of the nuances across the workplace. Just as calling someone from Italy or France ‘European’ would be a disservice to their cultural differences, there needs to be a better understanding that the term ‘Asian’ does not do enough to describe the vast distinctions of multiple ethnic groups (i.e. Chinese, Korean, Cambodian, Indian, Japanese, etc) 
  • Many people may be in career paths now which families may not approve of if they aren’t in line with expectations or tradition.
  • One Cutover individual mentioned aspirations to work in the entertainment industry, and finding it difficult to find roles and work in more creative spaces because of underlying assumptions and typecast roles. 
  • Many people have found that there is a general assumption that individuals of Asian descent are more likely to fit into technical and engineering-led roles, to the point that one person was steered towards those available roles during a recruitment fair.
  • Just like the ‘Asian’ term can cover so many backgrounds and rich heritage, the assumptions then stretch to the notion that their history defines where a person is ‘from’. We heard experiences of Asian people who have grown up in Europe or the US being asked ‘but where are you really from?’
  • Passive racism exists in many forms, and it’s something that people who have experienced it inherently understand, but sometimes struggle to explain to those who haven’t.

Many of these examples, as we have mentioned, don’t necessarily point towards feelings of malice or discrimination, but serve to highlight the inbuilt assumptions that can very easily be drawn in certain situations, and how exercising mindfulness and broadening our understanding of Asian heritage can minimize these occurrences. 

 

What organisations can do - Dr Lim

 

 

We are fortunate to be able to share with you the session that Dr. Lim held with us, so that you can learn more about the significance of this month, what’s going on at the moment, and how you can help. The key takeaway here is what businesses can take from these discussions to further their engagement with all employees across communities:

  • Practice mindfulness: pay attention to interactions with colleagues from different ethnic backgrounds in a reflective way. 
  • Be aware of any underlying assumptions and language which could be confusing or offensive.
  • Be mindful of how misidentifying or confusing East Asian colleagues is a type of microaggression that undermines the individuality of your Asian colleagues. Practice intentionality to not make this error or write it off as just a ‘casual’ mistake. 
  • Be sensitive to the challenges that East Asian colleagues might face due to COVID-19 discrimination. Ask questions, too. 
  • Work with your organization to increase visibility and amplify Asian voices,  including pushing for increased East Asian representation on committees and boards for diversity and inclusion
  • Encourage open, honest, and transparent conversation, where all employees have the confidence to contribute and have their voices heard. This includes opening the forum to the entire community so that all employees (Asian and non-Asian) can learn from each other. 

 

What we can do - Dr Lim

 

 

Donation and support resources

USA UK

Heart of Dinner

Founded at the onset of COVID-19, Heart of Dinner works to fight food insecurity and isolation experienced by Asian American seniors - two long-standing community issues heightened by the pandemic.

Britain’s East and South East Asian Network

A nonprofit, grassroots organization founded by six East and South East Asian (ESEA) women, whose mission is to promote positive representation of ESEA people in the UK and tackle discrimination at all levels in our society.

Stop AAPI Hate

Nonprofit organization that runs the stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, which tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

Connect: North Korea

Facilitates specific support initiatives for North Korean refugees in the UK. Connect: North Korea is an independent, non-religious, and non-political registered charity founded in 2017 and based in New Malden, London - home to the largest exile community outside Asia.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice

AAJC is a national 501 (c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1991 in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to advance the civil and human rights for Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society for all.

British Asian Trust

Work to reduce poverty and disadvantage for communities in South Asia. At all times, their focus is on outcomes and impact.

National Asian Artists Project

(NAAP) exists to be a leader in educating, cultivating, and stimulating audiences and artists - current and future - through showcasing exceptional work by vibrant artists of Asian descent.

Support the launch of ESEA Heritage Month in the UK

Change.org petition

The Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers

(SASE) was founded in November 2007 and is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that works to help Asian heritage scientific and engineering professionals achieve their full potential.

Stop Hate UK: “Recipes Against Racism”

One of the leading national organizations working to challenge all forms of Hate Crime and discrimination, based on any aspect of and individual’s identity. It provides independent, confidential and accessible reporting and support for victims, witnesses, and third parties.

 

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