A man holding Racism is a Virus sign

In response to an increase in violence against Asian Americans in the U.S., a series of monthly webinars is creating a safe space where Asian Americans and their allies can learn about and discuss issues of racism.

By John Oda
August 12, 2021 | SAN FRANCISCO

Mr. Vichar Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, was a familiar sight in his San Francisco, California, neighborhood. Every morning, the gentle and quiet man could be seen taking one of his hour-long walks. These kept him healthy and energetic.

On January 28, 2021, a man ran across the street and, without warning, violently shoved Mr. Ratanapakdee to the ground. Mr. Ratanapakdee died from his injuries. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin would later describe this as a “horrific and senseless attack.”

In New York in February, a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed with a box cutter across his face while sitting on the subway. One week later, a stranger began shouting at Kimberly Ha, 38, as she walked her dog. He yelled: “You people shouldn’t be here, get out of this country, I’m not scared of this virus that you people brought over.”

There is nothing new about hatred and violence directed at the Asian American population in the United States, but since March of 2020, in most major cities, there has been an average 125% increase in violence against Asian Americans. In New York alone, there has been an 833% increase in anti-Asian violence. Overall, about 68% of that violence has been directed at women. Verbal harassment is by far the most common but shunning, physical assault, workplace discrimination, barring from establishments and vandalism have all been reported as part of this rise in anti-Asian violence.

In October 2020, Global Ministries’ Asian American Language Ministry Plan, the New Federation of Asian American United Methodists, and Church and Society teamed up to co-sponsor a webinar series called “Raise Up Your Voice Against Racism” with the goal of creating a safe space where Asian Americans and their allies can learn about and discuss racism. These webinars – nine in total offered so far – are very important resources because there are not many spaces for Asian Americans to talk about racism. Some of the topics covered are Asian American Youth Perspective on Racism; Racism from the African American Perspective; Misogyny, Racism and Asian American Women; Racism and Self-Care; and Racism and the Latinx Community.

Paired with the webinars are “In Between Conversations.” These lightly facilitated hour-long discussions are an additional time in between the webinars where people can reveal their feelings about racism or share about the racism they have personally experienced.

Tak and Pat Yamamoto have attended the webinars for the past few months. Tak is in his 90s and Pat says she is not far behind. Tak explained, “Without the webinar presentations, I probably would never have found out or thought about what has been discussed in terms of racism.” Pat also chimed in, saying that she learned about the systemic racism in this country. “We had not talked about this until George Floyd. The webinars have helped us learn more. But sometimes learning about racism can seem endless and overwhelming.”

Pat elaborated on her feelings about the current anti-Asian violence, saying “You know, I am angry because I have to change my lifestyle because of this anti-Asian hatred. I am angry because a Chinese American friend’s younger brother in New Jersey was beaten up and left on a bus stop bench because of this anti-Asian hate. His wallet, money and credit cards were not taken.” 

The Rev. Neal Christie, executive minister for Connected Engagement with the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, is one of the conveners of the webinars. On the impact of the webinars, he explains: “These webinars are making a difference and educating people about The United Methodist Church’s Book of Resolutions. The Book of Resolutions states that ‘racism robs all human beings of their wholeness and is used as a justification for social, economic, environmental, and political exploitation.’ The Book of Resolutions also calls on all United Methodists to stand against racism, and these webinars are making this happen.”

Unfortunately, racism against the Asian American community in the United States continues to rise. The “Raise Up Your Voice Against Racism” webinars are informing, inspiring and motivating people to fight against racism, not just against Asian American racism, but against racism aimed at all communities of color.

The Rev. John Oda is the program manager for the Asian American Language Ministry Plan for Global Ministries.

The next “Raise Up Your Voice Against Racism” webinar is on August 24, 8 p.m. EDT, on the topic of “Racism and the Criminal Justice System.” Contact John Oda for more information at joda@umcmission.org.