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Seattle experts: Anti-Asian hate crimes in focus after high-profile incidents

Anti-Asian rhetoric since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has added fuel to a long-smoldering fire.

SEATTLE — Hate crimes against Asian Americans jumped 149% from 2019 to 2020 in 16 of America's largest cities. That includes Seattle, according to a study from California State University, Santa Barbara.

Verbal harassment, shunning, physical assaults, civil rights violations and online harassment against Asian Americans saw an uptick in the last year.

"All this time, and finally, something like mass murder happens for people to take notice that, ‘oh wow, anti-Asian racism is real,’" said Hye-Kyung Kang, chair of the Department of Social Work at Seattle University.

The tragedy that took place at three Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday spotlighted ongoing fear among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

"We have unchecked racism, colonialism, misogyny that is overflowing," said Kang.

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Kang said anti-Asian rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic added fuel to a smoldering fire.

"We can't be just all of a sudden surprised when something like this happens," said Kang.

University of Washington Psychology Professor Sapna Cheryan said acknowledging America's racial wounds in all facets is critical.

"I think there's kind of this double battle that Asian Americans do, which is trying to establish that we're just as American as anybody else and we belong here, and then also our group does face prejudice and discrimination," said Cheryan.

Kang said tackling racism involves holding society accountable and checking individual biases.

"Put us in the center,” explained Kang. “Let us tell our own stories. Let us talk about our own complexity of Asian people, not just, you know, recycle the whole model minority narrative. Asians, Asian Americans are extremely diverse.”

Kang suggests allies begin tearing apart the very threads that perpetuate anti-Asian racism.

"Be willing to grapple with the presence of Asian Americans in this country that grappled with the forces of racism, that constantly tried to erase us," said Kang.