Lisa Ling on Anti-Asian Violence—And the Rising Movement Against It

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Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. So, the Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry has been living rent free in my mind. What I really can’t stop thinking about is how many courageous conversations might be had and how many lives might be saved because Oprah lovingly opened the door and Meghan bravely walked through it. So heads up, I’m about to talk about suicide ideation. So I fully understand if you need to fast forward. I told you all a few weeks ago about my worst death threats during our episode on internet safety. Those death threats were coming from someone I knew, a man who directed his white supremacist bile toward me online, but who could easily gain access to me offline. It was such a dark, dark time. And honestly, I found myself struggling to grab hold of the energy and the strength I needed to fight through it. So I too, thought about dying by suicide. And I’m so grateful that my mother and my partner, my therapist, my loved ones supported me through that incredibly scary chapter. 

But like Meghan and like so many women, especially Black women and women of color, we don’t always get the help that we need. Some folks even say that we’re faking it. But studies show that stressors Black women face literally age us biologically seven and a half years more than white women, to be exact. So I’m here to tell you that your battle fatigue from weathering daily sexism, racism and more is real, it is valid, and you matter. Our mental health is serious and we deserve to thrive y’all. I really pray that Meghan’s story and mine too, might be a reminder that there is another side to whatever you are going through right now. I am thankfully in a much better place today, but it’s partially because I know where to find help if and when I need it again. If you or anyone you know needs support, please reach out to the crisis text line. Text “home” to 741-741. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. I love you. We are UNDISTRACTED

Brittany Packnett Cunningham On the show today, Lisa Ling. I’ll be talking to the journalist and CNN host about the horrific rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and how people of all backgrounds are coming together to condemn this violent discrimination. 

Lisa Ling It’s such a moving movement that has emerged. But on the other hand, it’s just like I can’t believe we’ve gotten to this place where people who look like me have to be escorted when they just want to be able to walk freely in their neighborhoods. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, it’s your “UNtrending News”.  

So this has flown a bit under the radar. We know that the 1.9 trillion dollar relief package was not perfect, but the Democrats pushed for it and Congress just passed it. And y’all, it does include a guaranteed income for families with children. 

President Biden This plan is historic, real, tangible results for the American people and their families. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham This is a big deal and it’s something that feminists have been long calling for. Many women have had to do double duty as workers and as parents during the pandemic. And others have just found it impossible to do both and actually had to leave their jobs. Now, all families except the most affluent will get a monthly check of up to 300 dollars per child. It’s the kind of support that already happens in other wealthy countries. This child tax credit is set to go for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats are hoping for, it’s projected to cut child poverty by 45 percent and by more than 50 percent among Black families. Y’all, reducing poverty by over 50 percent in Black communities is not a small thing. The New York Times calls it a “policy revolution,” and that’s what I hope it becomes. This is the direction that we need to be moving in. 

Now, as you are probably aware, because you’re listening to this podcast, you already know March is Women’s History Month. And it’s only fitting that Ruth Bader Ginsburg might soon be honored with a monument at the US Capitol. A new bill introduced by the Democratic Women’s Caucus proposes a monument of the feminist legal icon in a place of prominence. Of course, RBG, who died in September, was a trailblazer who dedicated her life to fighting for women’s equity. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I love the idea of an RBG tribute at the Capitol. You know what? I’d also like to see Pauli Murray, the Black Episcopal priest and legal scholar who also deeply influenced her work. She should be getting a bus somewhere, too. I really think this needs to happen now, especially seeing that the majority of monuments at the Capitol depict a bunch of white men. Of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall collection, only nine are women. And I know because I used to be a congressional intern and I had to give that tour. Every year between three and five million people visit the Capitol grounds and so many of those visitors are children. It’s important that they actually see the full spectrum of what our heroes look like and see statues that reflect the great diversity of this country. 

Now, our favorite national poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, took to social media this week to share her experience of being racially profiled – get this – in her own apartment building. She said that a security guard demanded to know if she actually lived in her Los Angeles home. He told her that she, quote, “looked suspicious.” In the moment, Amanda says that she just showed her keys and buzzed herself in but later she talked about this. She posted on Twitter, quote, “This is the reality of Black girls. One day you’re called an icon. The next day a threat. And in a sense, he was right. I am a threat. A threat to injustice, to inequality, to ignorance.” Yes, Amanda, we stand sis. Keep using your approach to speak truth about the good, the bad and the ugly of navigating the world as a young Black woman today. As our good sis Solange said in her song FUBU, “When it’s going on a thousand years / and you’re pulling up to your crib / and they ask you where you live again / but you running out of damns to care, oh.” We know this kind of racial profiling has been going on for years, decades, centuries, millennia, but we can’t let it be normalized no matter how long it’s been happening. The more we speak about it, the more we can press the issue to end. 

And finally, I want to update y’all about the hunger strike in Chicago we talked about last week. Activists have decided to go back to eating after starving for a month. This is not because Lori Lightfoot or the city of Chicago has done anything right. It’s because they need to give their bodies nutrients in order to continue the struggle. As a reminder, they are opposing a metal plant for moving into a Black and Latinx neighborhood that’s already suffering from pollution. In a recent demonstration, organizers carried a casket through Logan Square to mourn their deteriorating health, which includes migraines, muscle pains, and anxiety attacks. So let’s keep up our support so they don’t have to resort to these drastic measures again and more importantly, so they can bring this win home. 

Coming up, I’ll be talking to journalist Lisa Ling about what all of us can do to take action against anti-Asian racism right after this short break. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And we are back. My guest today has been one of the most recognizable TV journalists for over two decades now. I first began watching Lisa Ling on The View back in the ‘90s. And since then, I’ve continued to admire her investigative work on The Oprah Winfrey Show, on Our America with Lisa Ling, and currently on CNN’s This is Life. Lisa has always been outspoken about the difficult but important issues, including these days with the appalling rise of anti-Asian hate crimes happening across this country, something that’s affecting her personally. The nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate tracked more than twenty eight hundred incidents of racism and discrimination targeting Asian-Americans between March and December just last year. And as Lisa has pointed out, many Asian-Americans are now more fearful of getting attacked than they are of getting Covid. This is something we needed to talk about. 

Lisa Ling, thank you so, so much for having this conversation with us. I’m so excited to talk to you. 

Lisa Ling Thank you for having me, really appreciate it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So obviously, I’m talking to you in the middle of a wave of just really violent anti-Asian attacks. And these are things that you’ve been warning about and posting about for months, for years. Before we get into the conversation, I really just want to know how you’re feeling. 

Lisa Ling I — I wish I could express in words how I’m feeling. It’s — it’s a mixture of just devastation, of horror, of pain, of anger. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t losing sleep at night over this. And I have been posting about this in the last few weeks and months. But when I really stop and think about the way Asian people have been discriminated against in this country as a whole, I mean, this has been going on for more than a century since the Chinese first came to this country to work on the Pacific Railroad. It is really disturbing to me and to find myself in this position where I feel afraid when I’m walking around with my kids because people who look like me are being targeted for brazen assault for doing nothing but just existing is a — is a challenging feeling. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham It absolutely has to be. And like you said, this has been going on for at least a hundred years, but the advent of cell phone technology means so many more of us can see it. And so a lot of these recent anti-Asian attacks have really come to our attention through these very graphic, viral, violent videos. Have you been watching them? What’s your reaction? 

Lisa Ling You know, Brittany, I’ve been seeing them more often than I want to see them. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Of course.

Lisa Ling And believe me, there have been moments where I’ve said to myself, like, why am I doing this to myself? But I have to watch this and people have to see what’s happening, particularly to our Asian elderly. People who are in their 80s, in their 90s, who are being brazenly and viciously attacked. We have to see this if we are going to become activated. And that’s what’s happening now. For the most part, the Asian community is one that has just tried to keep its head down. It has not been particularly — you know, this is generally speaking — particularly vocal, even when egregious injustices have taken place in the Asian community. And now with social media and how pervasive these attacks are becoming, there is this mobilization that is happening among Asian-American people, but also outside of the Asian community of people who are rallying to condemn these hateful actions, this overt racism, and really speaking out in a way that I’ve really never experienced before. And that is to me, the silver lining in all of this. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, like you said, I am personally extremely troubled by the fact that so many of these recent attacks involve older people. There was a 91 year old man in Oakland who was violently pushed to the ground by a stranger just last month. 

Lisa Ling Yeah, there was a man who was attacked in a laundromat a couple of days ago. 67 year old man. There was a woman in her 80s who was burned. She survived, but she was burned. I mean, it’s — it’s unthinkable. It’s unfathomable, but it’s the reality and you know, as someone who was born in this country, who has always felt conflicted about my identity — I grew up in a community that was not very diverse. I can honestly say that I was teased every day of my high school life for being Chinese. At the time, it didn’t seem malicious to me. It was just kids just teasing. And even though I knew it wasn’t malicious, I would go home crying about it. But to see how these attacks have — have evolved is really, really troubling. And the fact that Asian people are being scapegoated because of — of this pandemic, it’s so wrong and terrifying quite honestly.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That is exactly what’s happening. It’s been an intentional scapegoating. This is what happens when you’ve got a whole year plus of xenophobic rhetoric and racist attacks. Data suggests that 2020 was the worst year this century for anti-Asian hate crime. A lot of people have, I think, rightfully attributed that increase to Trump referring to Covid-19 as the, quote, “China Virus.” I mean, just these awful stereotypes and images. Do you see that connection? Like, help people understand why this is happening right now.

Lisa Ling Yes, there have been an astronomical number of attacks this past year. But again, when you really look back at Asian history in this country, when you think back on World War II and how people of Japanese descent, including so many Japanese Americans who were born in the United States, were rounded up and forced to live in internment camps. These kinds of aggressions have been perpetrated against Asian communities for — for decades. And do I think that Trump’s rhetoric had something to do with the increase in attacks? I mean, how could it not? You know, the Covid-19 has a bonafide name and for arguably the leader of the free world to not only refer to this virus as the China Virus or the Kung Flu or the Wuhan Virus, whenever he said it, he said it with such contempt. At a time when life in this country has been entirely upended, hundreds of thousands of people have become infected and died of this virus. It’s hard not to see how there could be a correlation. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. 

Lisa Ling The contempt that he expressed whenever he talked about it to me was inciting in and of itself. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So many people, I think, are still mystified if we’re being honest by the idea of anti-Asian racism. I want to make sure that people get more context. Can you shed some light on why racialized violence, racial violence against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders has been overlooked for so long? 

Lisa Ling Well, I talked about the internment of people of Japanese descent during World War II.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Right.

Lisa Ling I mean, the people who were sent to camps throughout this country, there was very little dissent. They lost everything. They had to leave their homes, their businesses and were not able to retrieve them when they were finally released. And then there was no outcry after it ended. And in many history books, American history books, it’s barely a mention. In fact, I posted a couple of weeks ago about the anniversary of FDR’s executive order that led to the internment of over one hundred twenty thousand Japanese Americans. And there were so many people who posted on my social media saying they had never heard of this. And that’s because American history is told through a certain lens. And, you know, when — when kids are young, this is when they build empathy and when — when you don’t have that ability to know about the challenges and struggles of a certain demographic, and that demographic is one that, generally speaking, doesn’t speak out. How would anyone really know about the injustices that have been directed toward a particular demographic? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I also think what is a part of the conversation — is finally emerging more broadly — is also this this model minority myth. We know that that is a harmful myth. For those who don’t know, it is the stereotype that Asian-American and Pacific Islander people are a monolithic group of, quote unquote, “Well-behaved immigrants.” Right? And of course, this assumption that everyone who belongs to this group has class privilege and success and therefore don’t experience any racism. And to your point, Lisa, it’s not even being taught when it is being experienced. How much do you think that that false idea is contributing to the current climate? 

Lisa Ling I think that people have harbored that perception for a very long time. And I think that the model minority myth, which is exactly that, it’s a myth, was used to pit minority communities against each other. Look, Asian-Americans, they are hardworking. They are such achievers. Why can’t all minorities be like them? When the fact is that in New York, the disparity between rich and poor is most apparent in the Asian community. In fact, in New York City, Asians are actually the poorest of minority groups. And so I think that this period that we’re experiencing right now is a real reckoning. You know, it’s a moment of inflection when we have to really look back and look at the reality that so many Asians are experiencing. We are not a monolith. We are comprised of so many different ethnicities. We come from so many rich cultures and our struggles and our triumphs have been entirely different. And until we recognize that — that stereotype or that categorization of the model minority will continue to inflict and foment a lot of really adverse reactions with regard to the Asian community. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So as we look towards solutions, understandably, there’s been a really complex conversation in the Asian-American community about how to actually handle this situation. So, for example, we know that some people are calling for more police protection. Other people are very critical of the police and police violence. They reject that idea. What do you think needs to be done? 

Lisa Ling Well, look, I absolutely think that there are some communities that need more police protection. I mean, what are they there for, right? I think that there is this Defund the Police movement, which certainly has its merits and needs to be examined. And when we really stop and analyze what that means, it means a reallocation of funds from police departments to things like social services or mental health services. And I think that that absolutely needs to be considered. But at the same time, we still have police departments that I think need to do a better job of keeping people safe. And I’m just seeing these attacks continue. You know, just when you think that it’s getting better, videos emerge of more brazen attacks. And I think that communities also are jumping in to try and protect their own community. I mean, I’ve been heartened by the fact that there are organizations in Oakland, in the Bay Area of California and New York, comprised of people of all different ethnicities and racial backgrounds who are coming together to escort Asian seniors and Asian people from public transportation to their homes. It’s such a moving movement that has emerged. But on the other hand, it’s just like I can’t believe we — we’ve gotten to this place where, again, people who look like me have to be escorted when they just want to be able to walk freely in their neighborhoods. Honestly, Brittany, it’s just like I — I — I just — I can’t believe we are in this place right now. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So President Biden did sign an executive order denouncing anti-Asian discrimination shortly after taking office. But to your point about the sad, sad place we’re in, last fall there was a House resolution condemning anti-Asian racism and 164 GOP members of Congress refused to sign it. Now, how does that feel? 

Lisa Ling Nothing surprises me anymore. You know, racism really runs deep in this country. And the fact that a group of Republican members of Congress could not sign a resolution to condemn — I mean, really, that resolution was nothing more than a condemnation of attacks against Asian people and they couldn’t bring themselves to sign that — to me is a glaring example of the fact that racism is alive and well and thriving in this country and that we have to do everything that we can to fight against it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  Yeah, I want to go back to this notion of the police again for a second. So actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu, they offered a twenty five thousand dollar reward for anyone who had information leading to the conviction of the attacker of the 91 year old Asian man in Oakland. His attacker was a Black man. So we talked about this incident a little earlier. But there are also a lot of folks within the Asian community who were really troubled by the reward offer, given the disproportionate amount of harm done by police to Black people. So this tension within communities, between communities is not new. What does it have to look like for us to come together now to find solutions to stop these attacks and protect one another so that our communities not only can be safe, but so that we can actually, you know, heal?

Lisa Ling You know Brittany, it just so happens that surveillance video has caught images of Black men attacking Asian people. But the reality is that attacks against Asian people, hate-related incidents against Asian people, are not just being perpetrated by Black people. They are happening throughout this country by people of all different ethnicities and backgrounds and all over the world. I think that when anyone is so viciously and brazenly attacked for no other reason than the color of their skin, there have to be consequences. That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t or couldn’t be a restorative justice kind of response if it is victim-led. But there have to be consequences irrespective of one’s race. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And to your previous point, we talk about the tension between communities, but there has been an immense amount of solidarity between communities. You know, the Anti Police-Terror Project, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, they’ve joined forces on a lot of initiatives to get to this silver lining that you are talking about. 

Lisa Ling Exactly. And I — I applaud those organizations that have been on the ground working hard to combat hate, to — to promote solidarity and to strengthen communities. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So put us to work. What can all of us listeners, everyday people do to take action against anti-Asian racism, like you said, going on across the country right now? 

Lisa Ling You know Brittany, I — I think about that question every day, what can we do? And to be honest with you, if I knew the answers, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. I’m hungry for answers as well because this is continuing and not showing any signs of abating. But what I will say to people who are listening, you know, ordinary citizens who are as disturbed as I am about what’s happening. If you see an Asian grandparent walking down the street alone and you have a little bit of time, if you would maybe walk alongside him or her just to show some support and solidarity with that person. I think that would go a long way. Recognize that they are part of your community. They’re not outsiders and don’t scapegoat them for something that they had absolutely nothing to do with. If you do see violence happening, speak out. Stand with us. Stand against racism. And let’s show the world that we can do better, that we can stand up for each other irrespective of the color of our skin. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham “We can do better irrespective of the color of our skin.” I mean, that’s it right there. I’m interested to hear how you think “better” has been looking. I mean, you’ve been — you’ve been doing this — this work for a long time. I’ve personally been watching you since The View. When it comes to just general attitudes toward Asian, Asian-American, Pacific Islander people. Are you optimistic that things are getting better overall or is a moment like this a reminder that there’s just still so much work to do? 

Lisa Ling Well, there’s still so much work to do. But I — I am seeing a light that is increasingly becoming brighter, and that is that people are galvanized in wanting to be part of a movement and that that a movement is emerging and growing of people who are demanding a seat at the table. Not wanting to put our heads down anymore and not only speak out against violence against our own community, but speak out against injustices in all communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised. And that is really inspiring. And I encourage people to look into Asian-American history. It is incredibly rich. There are aspects of it that are horrific and tragic. I mean, the biggest lynching in America involving the most human beings happened in Los Angeles Chinatown. Look into Asian-American history and also acknowledge our — our triumphs as well. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And you are doing so much of that, what I call “small p public education” about those things and so much more on your show This is Life. And before I let you go, I want to ask you about that current work. You know, you explore communities around the country that are often underreported on and misunderstood. So this latest season, you’re looking at everything from heroin addiction to gun violence to psychedelic healing. I really think, honestly, Lisa, that is a show about solidarity and empathy. I’m wondering how you hope that these stories, especially in divisive times, can help bring people together. 

Lisa Ling I really am proud of the show that I’m able to do, because it really is an exploration of the different communities and cultures that exist in our own backyard. And we profile people and stories and communities that you may have heard about, but never really taken the time to get to know very well. And I think more than ever, so many of us have been isolated for long periods of time and on social media, yelling at each other with our fingers when we need to really engage with each other and take the time to get to know each other. When this is over, when the pandemic is over, and it will be, I really encourage people to just really take the time to get to know your — your fellow Americans a little bit better, because not only will you become a smarter, more well-versed person, but ultimately you’ll become a better person. And I think those are things that we could all do better at becoming. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Lisa, I couldn’t thank you more for the work that you do every day and for spending some time with me to talk about something that is incredibly difficult and ongoing, but that hopefully as we come together, we can set an end to. 

Lisa Ling Thank you so much, Brittany. It’s been a pleasure. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Lisa Ling is the host of CNN’s This is Life with Lisa Ling. If you see an Asian grandparent walking down the street alone, walk alongside them. It is so sad that this even needs to be said but we all can do more to help. And Lisa is right. We need to take the time to get to know our fellow Americans better and to learn about Asian-American history. To better understand how so many of our struggles actually intersect. There is certainly a real and long history of conflict and misunderstanding between marginalized communities. But let’s be clear. White supremacy culture is a smog that we all breathe in. And when we do, it can convince oppressed people to fight one another over scraps instead of fighting a system that leaves all of us out of the feast. So let’s stand strong and keep the solidarity going and expanding. And if you have time, pick up a book. We are doomed to repeat the history we don’t know. So let’s get busy learning it. I’d recommend the graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, it was a 2006 National Book Award finalist. Or, for more historical context check out The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee. Transformation requires all of us. So let’s get busy learning, loving and liberating ourselves. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. 


UNDISTRACTED is a production of the Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

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Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen and Hannis Brown.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself and our executive producers at Pineapple, are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

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Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.