As Violence Against Asian Americans Intensifies, the Moment for Philanthropy to Act Is Now

Fri, 2021-03-19

This was originally published as a Letter to the Editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy on March 17, 2021

To the Editor:

On Tuesday, eight people were shot dead in separate incidents in Atlanta. At least six of these victims were Asian American women. This is the latest — and most violent — following months of senseless attacks on Asian Americans in our nation.

It is nothing short of terrorism, especially directed against Asian American women. And it is time for philanthropy to do a lot more to curb the rising violence and hatred by using the power of its voice and its grant dollars. (Although the New York Times reported that the shooter denies a racial motivation, the targeting of Asian businesses and the murder of six Asian women is no less chilling to the Asian community and still needs investigation.)

Grant makers should follow the lead of President Biden, who said last week, “It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.” He said this during his first prime-time speech, which focused on the passage of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package. It’s significant that even in remarks meant to put the spotlight on actions to end the health and economic crisis, the president felt the need to call out this rash of violence against Asian Americans in communities across the country. He has also signed an executive order on this matter.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, more than 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian hate have been documented since March 2020, and with increased lethality. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus plans to hold a hearing this week.

While some policy makers and the media are beginning to shed light on this issue and take action, the philanthropic sector has done little. That is in part because Asians are invisible across the foundation world, even during a moment of tremendous vulnerability.

Invisibility is very personal to both of our organizations, the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and Native Americans in Philanthropy.

At the 1989 Council on Foundations conference, a small delegation representing Indigenous and Asian American and Pacific Islander philanthropic professionals came together, barely filling one table in a room with more than 1,000 people. Many of those original conversations centered on our invisibility as communities in the philanthropic sector and the severe lack of investment that resulted. From there, our two organizations were born.

We have made progress together for our communities, but invisibility remains one of our greatest barriers to investment and action. Each of our organizations includes communities representing hundreds of diverse and complex cultures, languages, communities, and nations. All of them have faced racialized violence going back centuries, yet we are too often relegated to an asterisk in the data with sample sizes “too small” relative to population size, or so we have been told. This is also a reason cited by the philanthropic sector to overlook our communities.

That’s why our organizations have come together to ask: When will philanthropy take action to stop this violence against Asian Americans?

Overlooking and underinvesting has real-world consequences. This is especially true right now. We call on the philanthropic sector to act by:

  • Strongly repudiating violence against Asian American communities. Send a clear message about your institution’s position on anti-Asian violence and all hate-based actions.
  • Disrupting the “model minority” and “perpetual foreigner” narratives alongside other racial tropes that serve to divide rather than unify this nation.
  • Supporting Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations as part of regular grant making and also in advancing a more holistic racial-equity strategy.
  • Honor and support cross-racial efforts that strengthen rather than divide the United States along racial lines.

Although recent events have been incredibly painful, we hope the philanthropic sector will take this opportunity to stand up by investing in — and valuing — the diversity of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. A truly inclusive democracy demands that we meaningfully support these rich and diverse cultures, especially when some seek violence against them. As advocates for Native Americans and Asian Americans, we know too well what it’s like to be excluded and disregarded in philanthropy. This is a moment for the sector to act and stand with our communities.

Patricia Eng
CEO, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy

Erik Stegman
Executive Director, Native Americans in Philanthropy

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