Asian Americans, like everyone else, are afraid right now. Afraid of contracting a potentially deadly virus during a global pandemic, afraid of losing their jobs.
But on top of everything else, many now fear being attacked if they go out in public: A older woman chased and shoved through a NYC subway station. A man being sprayed with air freshener on a train. A young woman being spit on by a man as he yells at cars to “run them over.” A family waking up in Fresno to find graffiti on their car reading F**k Asians and Corona Virus. These are just a few of the many reported hate incidents that have ramped up since news of the novel coronavirus spread last month.
The day after President Trump insisted on referring to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” multicultural marketing agency IW Group quickly launched an organic, in-house social campaign to address discrimination currently faced by Asian Americans. Creatives came up with, without the backing of any brands or companies, but through volunteering of their skills and by celebrity influencers who were already in the agency’s network.
“The agency is primarily, but not entirely, focused on marketing to the Asian American consumer. Obviously we have expertise within that community, and that gives us relationships that we can leverage for a campaign like this,” said Telly Wong, svp and chief content officer, IW Group.
Wong knew that it would take a longer time to flesh out a brand sponsorship or even to film a PSA, and he wanted to act fast. He needed to address the obvious concern that brands might hesitate to get on board.
“This is such a politically charged topic,” Wong said. “That’s one of the reasons we decided, ‘hey, let’s just go out and do something.’”
Last week, Wong reached out to actors Celia Au (Wu Assassins) and Tzi Ma (Mulan, The Man in the High Castle). Both had already encountered hate incidents directly; Au filmed the now-viral cell phone video of a man being sprayed with Febreze during a racist rant about the virus, and Ma had been harassed while heading into his local Whole Foods Market.
“As I approached the entrance, this car turned the corner and slowed down,” Ma recalled. “He stopped in front of me, rolled down the window, looked at me straight in the eye, and said ‘You should be quarantined.’ I had this moment of being frozen in time. …I just kind of went cold. I was in shock.”
Ma signed on eagerly to the #WashTheHate campaign, and filmed a 20-second video of himself washing his hands while condemning anti-Asian racism. In it he says: “Hate will get you sick, even if the virus doesn’t.”
Other influencers posted similar messages for #WashTheHate. In an Instagram video featuring her two adorable kids, Opening Ceremony co-founder Carol Lim told followers, “This virus doesn’t discriminate. So why are we?” TikTok couple @ourfire (Chris Kerr and Sharla May) shared their #WashTheHate message with their 5.6 million followers after being deluged with racist comments on a different post about a visit to Japan.
A number of high-profile Asian Americans have also been harassed. Journalist Jiayang Fan, a staff writer at The New Yorker, tweeted on March 17 that a man called her a “Chinese bitch” as she took out her garbage. Dozens of angry responses to her tweet insinuated she was lying about the incident. Influencer Eugenie Grey, AKA @feralcreature, posted on Instagram the same day, saying that a man had run up behind her and kicked her small, elderly dog. Just a few days earlier while traveling in Paris, Grey said in a separate post. Someone jumped in front of her and yelled “Coronavirus” as she approached an Uber.