On March 16, 2021, a lone white gunman went on a shooting spree in three spas in the Atlanta area and killed eight people—six of whom were Asian women. This vicious crime is another indicator of rising anti-Asian sentiment in the United States.
Research released by the organization Stop AAPI Hate revealed that there were nearly 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents, mostly against women, between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. This has been happening against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the highest levels of government leaders used reckless rhetoric about the virus which associated it with Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities—and in which AAPI healthcare workers make up 8.5 percent of all essential healthcare workers, critical to defeating the virus, according to the New American Economy Research Fund.
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) stands with AAPI communities against hate and acknowledges the long history of such xenophobia in the United States and the work we need to do to combat it.
A Brief History of Anti-Asian Sentiment in the United States
Anti-Asian sentiment unfortunately is nothing new in the United States.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur. This was the first major immigration legislation designed to limit immigration from somewhere specific.
During World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps by the U.S. government under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The process of unlawfully incarcerating this community began within 48 hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
While these are perhaps the most infamous instances of discrimination against the Asian-American community in U.S. history, xenophobia, bias, and violence against AAPI communities continues in several different forms to this day as has been demonstrated by the recent Atlanta shootings.
The Biotechnology Sector Stands with AAPI Communities
The biotechnology sector is just one of the many sectors of the economy that have greatly benefited from the involvement of members of the AAPI communities. According to BIO’s The Right Mix Matters Report published in January 2020, members of AAPI communities constitute approximately 22% of the employees of 98 major BIO member companies surveyed, with 9% of executives and 11% of board members identifying as AAPI. According to the New American Economy Research Fund, 1 in 5 physicians and surgeons in the United States are AAPI, as are 1 in 11 nurses. There is a similarly large impact being made by AAPI communities in the biomedical field where AAPI workers make up nearly 1 in 6 workers (or 83,000) in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry, as well as 1 in 7 (or 85,000) in the medical equipment and supplies manufacturing industry, and 1 in 9 (or 100,000) in pharmacies and drug stores according to the New American Economy Research Fund. The food supply chain also benefits greatly from the work of AAPI communities with 1.2 million AAPI workers in food-related industries.
Given this strong representation of AAPI communities in the biotechnology sector, it is clear that a great deal of the technological innovation that is building the economy of the future is thanks in large part to members of this community. As Nkarta Therapeutics CEO and BIO Vice Chair Paul Hastings told BIO in an exclusive interview, it is of the utmost importance to take a stand against acts of hatred against AAPI communities, which “are a major part of the [biotechnology] industry.”
Hastings referred specifically to former President Donald Trump’s comments on COVID-19 as being “irresponsible,” leading to a climate where some felt it was acceptable to blame AAPI communities for the pandemic. According to Hastings, recent anti-Asian racism and hate crimes are the result of a “bad example” reaching its sadly logical endpoint of a “bad outcome.”
This is a “really important issue” for the biotechnology industry and members of AAPI communities in the biotechnology sector are part of that industry “family,” added Hastings. This is a moment for the biotechnology sector to “step up” and an opportunity to lead “by example.”
After U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) publicly stated that they would halt the confirmation process of Biden administration appointees over a lack of AAPI representation, the White House is adding “a senior level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison, who will ensure the community's voice is further represented and heard,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The Biden administration has also announced actions to emphasize the importance of combatting anti-Asian violence, xenophobia, and bias. This latest actions build upon a memorandum issued and signed by President Biden during his first week in office titled, “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.”
The Biden administration’s latest actions include:
- Reinstating the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and appointing a permanent Director to lead it.
- The Department of Health and Human Services is allocating $49.5 million in funding for AAPI survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. HHS is now also establishing a subcommittee on Structural Drivers of Health Inequity and Xenophobia within the already established COVID-19 Equity Taskforce.
- Establishing a Department of Justice cross-agency initiative to address anti-Asian violence.
- The National Science Foundation is investing in funding research to prevent and address bias against AAPI communities.
- The National Endowment for the Humanities is launching a virtual library to celebrate Asian-American history and educate people about ongoing challenges faced by AAPI communities, which continue to face discrimination and racism.
While much work remains to be done on ensuring the safety and inclusion of AAPI communities, leaders both in the private and public sectors are paying attention at this moment to these longstanding concerns. The biotechnology sector is particularly mindful of these concerns and engaged in addressing them.