The mass shootings that took place at three spas in Atlanta have brought national attention to the rise in violence directed towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). In fact, attacks towards AAPI individuals have increased by 150% over the past year.
AAPI small businesses are absolutely essential to communities and include healthcare facilities, restaurants, and convenience stores. To give you perspective of the number of AAPI-owned small businesses in the U.S., the National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (National ACE) represents more than 2.2 million AAPI small businesses through its affiliate chambers.
As Chair of National ACE’s Board of Directors, Dr. Karen Eng is helping lead the effort to provide support to AAPI businesses during this time. Dr. Eng left a successful optometry profession to take over the family business, CSMI, a specialized engineering firm that assists clients with packaging conversions and process improvement. She has served as National ACE’s Board Chair since January 1, 2020.
I recently connected with Dr. Eng to discuss the impact of Covid-19 and the rise of anti-Asian violence on AAPI business owners. I am grateful to her for taking the time to speak with me; below is a summary of our conversation.
Rhett Buttle: Small businesses across the country have been managing Covid-19 for more than a year. How has Covid-19 impacted AAPI small business owners?
Dr. Karen Eng: Our community has been disrupted by Covid-19, economic uncertainty, political unrest, and racial injustice. For instance, AAPIs have had the most difficulty getting back to work after being laid off compared to other demographics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half of AAPIs (46.6%) have experienced the greatest share of long-term unemployment (27 weeks or longer). Additionally, the number of active AAPI business owners fell by 20% from February through December 2020, compared to just 3% of Black and Hispanic businesses.
A national survey by the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, National ACE, and Public Private Strategies measuring how Covid-19 has affected minority-owned small businesses also reported alarming statistics. More than 80% of AAPI business owners say Covid-19 has had a negative effect on their business, 53% report increased debt to keep their businesses operating, and 49% had to lay off at least one employee, which is the highest percentage of any demographic.
The coronavirus has also seemingly resulted in a spike in violence against the AAPI community, in part because of the virus’s origin and due to the spread of misinformation about our community. We cannot discount that the 1900% surge in AAPI racist attacks, harassment, and xenophobia is uniquely affecting AAPI businesses and hurting struggling communities like Chinatown. Our country’s political and business leaders must include AAPI voices as we look to solve challenges our community faces in a way that truly benefits everyone.
Buttle: The violent attacks towards AAPI individuals in Atlanta and throughout the country has been horrifying. How has that impacted you and your community?
Dr. Eng: The recent attacks in Atlanta sent shockwaves throughout the AAPI small business community and we share their grief and anger. Since the beginning of the pandemic early last year, there have been over 3,000 self-reported incidences of discrimination against Asians nationwide, from verbal harassment to physical assault. This rise in anti-Asian racism and violence is severely hurting diverse small business owners and entrepreneurs in our community during this global pandemic.
AAPI small businesses are not able to operate safely and need assistance now. They are frightened and are taking precautions to run their businesses. Some have had to temporarily close. We are also hearing directly from our partners about how many of these businesses, residents, and workers are experiencing different levels of discrimination. Our national survey of AAPI businesses last year indicated one in three female AAPI business owners have also experienced racial bias.
National ACE recently convened a meeting of small business leaders who were able to share their experiences openly. Some reported how their family members do not feel safe leaving the house because they are AAPI. Others reported being “zoom-bombed” during a conference by a group of hackers that infiltrated their program displaying inappropriate images and shouting racist comments.
These attacks must stop and we need to unite as a country to end this discrimination and bias.
Buttle: Sadly, there is a great deal of misinformation about the AAPI community. How does this impact small business owners and others?
Dr. Eng: One upsetting misperception has been that AAPIs do not need any assistance, financial or otherwise, and I have just laid out numerous facts explaining why this is simply not true. Unfortunately, this type of misinformation has helped lead to AAPIs being excluded from many of the diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that have been undertaken in the past year.
While I applaud many corporations’ focus on stronger DEI programming internally, I’d encourage them to make sure AAPI’s have a seat at the table.
Through my work with National ACE, we celebrate the progress that has been made on racial inequity and we applaud leaders who have stepped up to address inequalities in their communities. Our concern is how easy it is for AAPIs to seemingly slip through the cracks in conversations around inequities. AAPIs are victims of the model-minority myth, suggesting that what is true about some AAPIs (in terms of success and prosperity) is the case for all AAPIs. AAPIs are often less likely to be promoted to executive positions within their companies and represent only a small share of Fortune 500 companies. It is imperative that our business and community leaders elevate AAPI leaders in spaces where decisions are being made and for the members of our community to help make sure their voices are heard.
Buttle: What efforts have been undertaken and what would you like to see others do?
Dr. Eng: National ACE has asked lawmakers, corporate business leaders, and the media to unite together and support the safety and security of AAPI small business communities. We have also instituted a campaign called #AAPIStrong to address the emotional and physical distress caused by the attacks and discrimination against AAPI small business communities and are already hearing from many organizations that want to join. We will also plan a roundtable discussion series with elected officials, policymakers, and AAPI business owners to provide a full understanding of the severe damage these acts of anti-Asian bias and hate have had on the business leaders and their employees.Going forward, I ask that top leadership in corporations and organizations be deliberate and conscious to be inclusive and equal in their diversity initiatives. Asian American and Pacific Islanders deserve a seat at the table alongside the Black and Hispanic communities. Collectively, this is how to build successful and thriving communities.
Published March 29, 2021