‘Break the Biases’: Becoming the Beloved Community


By Hannah Lester

The Asian-American community was rocked in March when a shooter visited three separate Atlanta massage parlors and let loose a spray of bullets. Many questioned whether the shooter had been racially-motived to hate crimes against Asians, despite what police said.

Auburn’s Becoming the Beloved Community met again recently to discuss hate crimes against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Asians, and held a conversation for the tough issues.

Becoming the Beloved Community was born from the mind of Rev. Dr. Joan Harrell, professor at Auburn and founder of Becoming the Beloved Community.

Since its conception, the group has met to discuss issues that prevent Auburn, and the world, from “becoming the beloved community,” including “Becoming the Beloved Community in the Midst of Racism, Inequality and COVID-19,” “Becoming the Beloved Community: Black Sacred Music, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Church” and “Becoming the Beloved Community Amid the Fragility of Democracy and White Supremacy.”

The last panel on hate crimes against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Asians (AAPI) featured Richard Lui, anchor and journalist for MSNBC/NBC News; Dr. Suhyun Suh, associate professor emerita and coordinator at the Korea Corner; My Ly, podcast editor for the Auburn Plainsman and undergraduate student in Journalism; Myoung-Gi Chon, associate professor of public relations; Juliane Vo, undergraduate student in pre-graphic design and psychology and the president of Spectrum; Dr. Nighet Ahmed co-founder and advisory board member for International Women for Peace and Understanding and Kerry Baharanyi, MSW, LICSW, PIP, Soul Affirming Counseling LLC.

“We find ourselves here tonight with the intentional responsibility to gather, to listen to the voices of members of the AAPI community,” said Joan Harrell, founder of the Becoming the Beloved Community movement.

Harrell asked Lui why hate crimes have increased against the AAPI community. And the simple answer, Lui said, is that he doesn’t know.

“We look for the data and the facts,” he said. “I don’t know the answer. There’s not a lot of data out there … But, when it comes to why we have more anti-Asian crimes, and incidents and racism, we don’t have the data. And so, there’s an opportunity to invest, to find out. Has it always been this high? Or was it always high and now it’s increasing? Is it high because now we document it and the community is telling its story?”

The facts do show, however, that hate crimes have risen again Asian Americans Chon said. In fact, they rose 145% in 2020, but overall hate crimes dropped 6%, he said.

In America’s largest cities, 49 anti-Asian the crimes were reported in 2019, he said, while in 2020, there were 120.

Chon took his information from two websites, the Study of Hate and Extremism by CSUSB (www.csusb.edu/sites/default/files/FACT%20SHEET-%20Anti-Asian%20Hate%202020%203.2.21.pdf) and the FBI (www.uccr.fbi.gov/hate-crime).

According to the FBI, Chon said, 57.6% of the victims were racially targeted.

“The victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias,” he said. “So I think this is the clue to prevent future … anti-Asian crimes. We need to break the biases from the offenders.”

Suh shared a hard truth — Asian Americans are often treated as foreigners — even if they have lived their whole life in America.

“When we look Asian, we are Asians, not recognized as Americans,” she said. “We, and our sons and daughters and our grandsons and granddaughters are treated as foreigners. This is a reality that there is a perpetual foreigner perception for Asian-Americans in the United States.”

Her own nephew was victimized on Auburn’s campus, a student who lived in a campus dorm.

“He was sitting, relaxing by himself in the backyard of the dorm, at night around 11 o’clock,” she said. “Three white students passing by approached him and suddenly physically attacked him, hitting him repeatedly in the head. It was on campus. He was taken to the local hospital after the incident, fortunately he did not suffer major injuries, aside from a few bruises and scars on his face. However, the mental scars stayed within him and the rest of our family.”

Ahmed shared the story of her son, who at 13 years old saved a woman’s life at the Atlanta airport by CPR, who was pulled aside before boarding to undergo a security check.

“It was even more troubling that the same 13-year-old boy, who was invited by the then-mayor Bill Ham and received a standing ovation at the Auburn City Council was later apprehended by on Auburn University campus by three police officers and asked to provide identification,” she said. “He had been working for the Auburn University photographic services to document the new buildings, but was stopped by the police who wanted to check his camera bags and see and check his legal status.”

Viisha P. Souza focused on the racism against Pacific Islanders, too. For instance, during AAPI month, she said there will not be a lot of pacific islander voices given a platform.

“We need to be very careful in making sure that when we’re grouping two identities together such as Asian American and Pacific Islander voices, that we’re actually hearing from all the voices and not just one racial construct.”

Listening, and hearing, is part of what will be necessary to becoming the beloved community, Souza said.

Vo, an undergraduate Auburn student, said that her family was one of three Vietnamese families in her area growing up.

“My dad told me no matter where I was, if I could find another Vietnamese person, they’d be a friend who would help me out,” Vo said.

Vo said she felt that at Auburn, there were fewer Asians to connect with, and even fewer Vietnamese people.

“I’m usually having to defend my views, or my experiences, from my peers, who, while not malicious, are ignorant of other world views because of their own limited experiences and it’s tiring because too many times I’ve had to explain what systemic oppression is or what intersectionality is or what the mild minority myth is and why it’s actually hurting not just Asians but all other minority groups and it’s so tiring to have to do that all the time,” Vo said.

Ly, a sophomore student on Auburn’s campus, said while growing up, she thought she could convince friends that she was not culturally different from them, which led to isolation.

Additionally, she said she was raised in a bi-lingual household with different expectations than at school.

Despite challenges, home was a place of understanding, Ly said, and leaving home to come to Auburn was difficult.

“Because I spent so much of my childhood trying to fit in, and being in Auburn, I felt a lot of pressure to act a certain way or be a certain way, as an Asian woman surrounded by primarily white students, so I tried my best to be just that,” she said.

Ly said that she realized she was forgetting certain Vietnamese words, like sock, which was jarring.

Growing up, Ly said she was always extremely protective of her parents, even more so since the coronavirus pandemic began.

“I’m always making sure [her mom] is being treated properly, and I guess, protected,” she said. “So I have to stay very aware of our surroundings.”

Ly said she learned about micro-aggressions young.

“Events like this, where we’re able to share our story and speak out about these things, they just really have to make some sort of impact and I think that’s all we can do is hope and continue to share our voices,” she said.

Baharanyi said that this is a culture of violence. But also a culture of love and each person is given a choice, to choose violence or love.

“These times are really tough, but they’re really educational,” Lui said. “And as we live through what I call a selfish pandemic … as we live through a viral pandemic, a racial pandemic, we’re also living through a selfish pandemic. Hate and violence has become way too cheap. And the way we battle that, one way, is by talking and finding truth. And that’s what journalism is.”


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