Rise in anti-Asian discrimination during COVID-19 sparks new awareness campaign

May 22, 2020
Ciara Parsons

Steven (Sung Min) Cho, Dr. Justina Sam, Dr. Justin Lam & Grace ZhaoSteven (Sung Min) Cho, Dr. Justina Sam, Dr. Justin Lam & Grace Zhao

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of anti-Asian discrimination and racism have been on the rise. As a result, informational and anti-racism campaigns have emerged as a way of dispelling rumours, offering allyship and supporting the Asian community.

Steven (Sung Min) Cho, a third-year medical student at the University of Toronto, decided to lead a local version of the anti-racism campaign #WashTheHate at the Faculty of Medicine, which started in April.

 Cho says he was compelled to get involved with this campaign after seeing an increase in hateful anti-Asian racism online and directly being on the receiving end of discrimination in his own community in Toronto.

In this Q&A, Cho discusses the goal of the #WashTheHate campaign. He also explains allyship and how Canadians can support the Asian community, and what he hopes people can learn from this campaign. 

Why did you get this campaign started locally? 
I felt very upset in the early phase of the pandemic reading and hearing stories of how Asian-Canadians were experiencing hate crime in the forms of physical and verbal abuse. I was also told by strangers driving by in a car to “Go back to my country with this virus” while I was on a run near Queen's Park in Toronto.  

I incidentally came across the #WashtheHate videos on Twitter and was really impressed by the initiative. So, I reached out to the organizers of the campaign, hoping to emulate something similar across the border. Luckily, they approved and encouraged my vision. 

Can you explain the campaign to me and what the goal is? 
The #WashtheHate campaign was started in the United States in response to the increasing events of discrimination and racism directed towards Asian communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a social media campaign that anyone can participate in by uploading a 20 second video of themselves washing their hands and sharing a story of how COVID-19 has impacted their lives. 

Its mission is to spread awareness of racism and discrimination faced by the Asian community, but most importantly to promote solidarity across all communities.  

Who would you say is the target audience?
While it is true that this campaign began with the intention of addressing the rising hate against people of Asian descent, the target audience is not exclusively Asian individuals. Those who have experienced racism can all probably appreciate this initiative. The message behind the campaign is for us all, including allies and other minoritized or underrepresented groups in our community. We all have a role in stopping the hatred and bigotry.  

Why are collaborative and multi-national campaigns like this one important?
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered anti-Asian racism around the world. Racism affects all parts of our society and unfortunately transcends across borders and communities. We need to take initiative and share this messaging and raise awareness in a collaborative manner to reach out to as many people as we can.    

What is something you hope people takeaway from this campaign?
I hope people don’t just view these videos and simply nod their heads in approval and think, “This is a good point”…or “I agree with this.” Actions speak louder than words. It’s not enough to just agree with the message – you need to show support through your actions. I hope these videos give people the courage to speak up for themselves and others. No one should go through experiencing racism and discrimination by themselves. Remember that your friends and colleagues might easily be the victim. Don’t remain silent and watch them fight this alone. 

Who has helped you with this initiative?
The Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity was super supportive of this initiative and helped me along the way. Shannon Giannitsopoulou, Anita Balakrishna and Dr. Lisa Robinson provided tremendous support. 

I am also thankful to the folks who participated in these videos so far including Grace Zhao and Drs. Justina Sam and Justin Lam


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