Over the past few months, the world has woken up to the growing threat of violence toward Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. But to AAPI communities, the threat of anti-Asian racism—which intensified drastically since the onset of the pandemic due to scapegoating, according to critics, by political figures including former president Donald Trump and their followers—is not a new one.
Although overall hate crimes in America's 16 largest cities dropped 7% last year, hate crimes against Asians increased 149%, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. One of the first public statements President Joe Biden made after taking office addressed the issue. He followed it up with plans last month for his administration to combat anti-Asian violence more aggressively. “We can’t be silent in the face of rising violence against Asian Americans,” President Biden tweeted. “These attacks are wrong, un-American and must stop.”
On April 18, the U.S. Senate will vote on an anti-Asian hate crimes bill put forward by Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono and Democratic Rep. Grace Meng. But for many, the measures are woefully late.
“It’s troubling to me that almost a year later we are just now addressing Asian discrimination, stereotypes and microaggressions,” says Frannie Rhodes, senior VP and U.S. executive director of creative talent at MullenLowe U.S. “I have experienced these actions throughout my years in the industry.”
The advertising industry is no stranger to anti-Asian discrimination, and it’s often in plain sight: in the ads and creative work that come out of agencies, in a lack of representation or representation limited to stereotypical roles that mirror the model minority myth. Here, members of the Amp community share their experiences with anti-Asian discrimination in advertising—how it manifests within workplaces, as well as in ads and media—and the kind of allyship and progressive action urgently needed to combat hate.
Discrimination within the ad industry
“I think the bigger issue is that we as an industry haven’t taken the proper steps to understand and educate each other on what the cultural sensitivities surrounding Asian people are. Asians are statistically sought-after candidates for entry-to-mid-level positions, but are the least likely to be promoted to leadership roles.” —Dan Koo, art director, Wieden+Kennedy New York
“Having a diverse leadership team—not just diversity at junior levels—that holds empathy, respect and genuine consideration for different views and backgrounds will establish a safe space for people to share their culture and stories, and create better work together. It should not take senseless violence to remind ourselves of the work we must do.” —Kitty Tsang, partner and director of strategy, Ready Set Rocket
“Because there tends to be a lot of AAPIs in the data, ad tech and engineering space, there are plenty of us who are individual contributors, but there’s that bamboo ceiling that really needs to be crushed. When you look at the very top, we don’t have enough representation. I would challenge agencies to reframe how we define leadership traits. Asians are not typically outspoken people, so much of our cultural upbringing doesn’t translate well into how the U.S. traditionally defines leadership.” —Danny Huynh, executive VP, client business partner, UM
“During my career I’ve been told to my face that ‘Asians don’t count’ from senior leadership when reviewing diversity in the creative department. I can’t tell you how hard that was to hear as an Asian, a female and a leader. It hit me so hard that I don’t think I’ve fully recovered to this day. More recently, I had a conversation with an employee who was frustrated about not seeing more diverse female leaders in leadership and didn’t think to acknowledge that he was talking directly to a diverse female leader.” —Frannie Rhodes, MullenLowe U.S.
“Asians do not face the same biases as other people of color in advertising. We face different challenges, and that includes a climate where many of us feel invisible. As someone who previously kept their head down in this industry, I believe it has never been more important for Asians to be seen and heard. That starts with leaders listening to what their people have to say.” —Michael Chen, copywriter, RPA