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New Data: Nearly 50% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Report Facing Discrimination

Survey findings from Stop AAPI Hate show urgent need for government to better protect civil rights for AA & PI communities.

Today, Stop AAPI Hate released the results of a new survey conducted by nonpartisan and independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago that details how Asian Americans (AAs) and Pacific Islanders (PIs) face widespread discrimination that often goes unaddressed and highlights the critical need for policymakers and civil rights agencies to vigorously protect the rights of AA and PI communities.

According to the report, nearly half (49%) of AAs and PIs nationwide say they have experienced illegal discrimination — or, in other words, a violation of their civil rights. These civil rights violations can include being unfairly fired or penalized at work, denied service at restaurants or stores, overlooked in buying or renting homes, bullied at school or unfairly targeted by the police – simply because they are Asian American or Pacific Islander. 

“The scale at which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have had their rights violated is shocking, and these findings should be a wake-up call for state and federal governments. We need immediate interventions from policymakers and civil rights agencies to ensure our communities can live, work, learn, travel, shop and vote without being targeted because of who we are.” said Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance.

Protecting against illegal discrimination and enforcing civil rights laws is the responsibility of a number of federal and state civil rights agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice and state civil rights departments. 

Examples of discrimination submitted to Stop AAPI Hate include: 

“I was going to a fast food restaurant and an employee asked if I had a COVID. I said ‘no’ and they said that due to extreme caution, they were going to have to ask me to leave because I was ‘high risk.’ I said I was vaccinated and boosted and they said it didn’t matter. One of the customers said it was because I wasn’t a local, but I am. I think it was because I am Chinese.” (Man, Midwest) 

“I lost my social services job after I reported several men for sexualizing my Asian heritage. They indirectly asked about my race and then made advances which I rejected. They expected docility. When I did not comply with their expectations, they humiliated and ostracized me. After pressure from human resources, management, and friends of the men I reported, I was terminated.” (Woman, Maryland) (edited for length)

“This study provides a comprehensive view of how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders experience and respond to discrimination, and in particular civil rights violations,” said Vadim Volos, Vice President of Public Affairs and Media Research at NORC. “We discovered that few Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who experience discrimination reported the incident. This survey also demonstrates why many are reluctant to report, with lead causes cited being they felt reporting would not make much of a difference, feared unwanted attention for themselves or their families and they were unsure of where to go or what to do.”

The findings also reveal that although millions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have experienced discrimination, only one in five reported it. There are existing processes to investigate and resolve civil rights violations, such as HR processes at work or through formal reporting to a government civil rights agency, but as the survey findings indicate, there are several reasons why so few report:

  • The reporting process is not easy. A majority (56%) of those who have reported civil rights violations said that the reporting process was difficult – signaling that the process itself is a deterrent. 
  • Many AAs and PIs do not believe reporting makes a difference. Half (52%) of those who experienced discrimination but did not report it thought reporting would not make a difference.
  • Policymakers and government agencies need to do more outreach to AAs and PIs on who they should go to after they have experienced discrimination. More than one-third (36%) of AAs and PIs did not know where to go after experiencing discrimination. 

Too often, those who are discriminated against feel compelled to make adjustments in their own lives even though they are not at fault. Nearly a third (31%) of AAs and PIs whose rights were violated report changing their own behavior, such as switching schools, jobs or where they shop. Additionally, half (50%) of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders experiencing discrimination indicate a negative impact on their mental health.

“Without the support needed to stand up for their rights, AA and PI communities are paying an enormous price, forced to leave jobs, switch schools, change commutes and avoid stores,” said Candice Cho, Managing Director of Policy and Counsel for AAPI Equity Alliance and co-author of the report.  “We must strengthen civil rights protections and enforcement to encourage and help communities of color take action against discrimination.” 

The new data suggest that there are ways to improve civil rights protections, provided policymakers, government agencies and others take immediate, deliberate action to protect the rights of AA and PI communities, including:

  • Passing new laws to strengthen civil rights protections and enforcement. A majority (67%) of AAs and PIs believe new civil rights laws are needed. 
  • Investing in partnerships between government civil rights agencies and trusted community-based organizations serving AAs and PIs. These are the groups that AA and PI communities trust to report discrimination to and learn about their rights from.
  • Providing multi-language outreach to AA and PI communities. Most (64%) AAs and PIs said they would feel more comfortable reporting a violation if they had a better understanding of their rights and how to enforce them.

“Our elected officials, civil rights agencies and community-based groups must come together to focus on protecting our civil rights — starting with increased education and culturally competent outreach to our communities,” said Annie Lee, Managing Director of Policy at Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-author of the report. “We need to do more to ensure Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders know that they don’t have to endure discrimination alone. There is a whole dedicated system that exists to protect their civil rights, but its impact is limited if people don’t know when or how to use it.”

While continuing to advocate for government action, Stop AAPI Hate plans to release more educational materials for AA and PI communities to help them better understand their rights. 

For Stop AAPI Hate’s full report, click here.