Psychology professor discusses layers of racial trauma experienced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islander community

When the coronavirus outbreak began, Dr. Sherry Wang, a professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University, wrote an op-ed addressing the virus of racism.

"It was really an op-ed for my Asian American community to say, 'How do you cope with racial trauma, when we're hearing all these things,'" said Dr. Wang.

The growing wave of violence against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community compounds the trauma. But Wang explains there's many explicit and implicit layers, including the experience of invisibility.

"For Asian Americans in particular, there's a history of us always been used in U.S. society as the model minority myth, as kind of this wedge to say, 'Hey, you know what? Look how great this community is doing,'" she said. "It really dismisses the suffering and the pain and the trauma and the diversity of Asian American community."

Wang encourages people to express the full range of emotions caused by racial trauma.

"Including rage. And that, I think, is going to be very scary for people who typically think of Asian American - stereotypically - as being quiet and submissive and docile and peacemakers," she said.

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A surge in brutal attacks against Asian-Americans, including a recent attack on a 91-year-old Thai man in San Francisco, has many calling for drastic change. So where do we go from here?

Wang underscores the importance of having linguistically and culturally sensitive mental health services as well as reporting, and helping people report hate crimes.

"We're also calling on our allies to do that, to be able to report for us or to engage in bystander intervention so that it's not falling on the victim," she said.

Wang and her colleagues at the Asian American Psychological Association wrote a letter condemning the hate crimes and violence against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, outlining actions needed, and encouraging Asian Americans to care for their individual and collective mental health.

She also urges people to dig deeper when discussing the solutions.

"I don't think we're talking as much about the economic instability and the anxiety, and what drives people to engage in crime this way and why our community, our people are being targeted," she said. "So, I think we need to talk about more than just race, race is super crucial. But I think there's so many other pieces of power that we're not discussing."

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Anti-Asian hate crimes are rising during the coronavirus pandemic. It is the latest chapter in the long history of U.S. racism against Asian Americans.

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