As a marketing professional, Eric Toda always looks at the Super Bowl with a critical eye. But this year, when he saw brands pledging to change after a year of protests over racial justice and political division, including in an NFL venue that many felt missed and a heavily criticized Jeep ad with Bruce Springsteen, He was not inspired by the messages of hope and unity.
On his mind were recent reports of Asian elders in Chinatowns from the Bay Area to New York City being violently assaulted, and in at least one case dying from their injuries, after an already difficult year. in which there was an increase in the fight against Asian racism during the pandemic. Between March 19 and December 31, 2020, the national Stop AAPI Hate coalition documented 2,800 first-hand accounts of anti-Asian hatred.
The news brought Toda back to the time she was 14, when her own grandfather was beaten up by a group of teenagers in a San Francisco park and had to recover in the hospital.
More than 20 years later, Toda, now a Facebook marketing executive, is using his position of influence to speak out against anti-Asian racism, which dates back to the 19th century and emerged during the pandemic.
“The myth of the model minority is killing us right now,” Toda tells CNBC Make It, referring to the stereotype that holds Asian Americans as hard-working, easy-going and financially successful as a means of erasing a history of racism. towards members of the community. “It keeps putting us on a pedestal for being silent and being okay with being silent. It pits us against other minority communities.”
“I realized that after having a relatively successful marketing career with a platform, I needed to use my voice in a way that is a little contrary to our culture, to call out and publicize what is happening, and also try to do changes, Toda explains, “The difference now is that we are much louder and better able to use our voice.”
Calling on brands to support Asian communities
As a marketing executive who has also built brands on Gap, Airbnb, and Snapchat, Toda says advertisers should spend more money on campaigns that condemn racism targeting all marginalized groups, including Asian Americans, and improve representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders including them. in more roles in front of and behind the camera. The goal of an advertiser, he notes, is to shape consumer perception with a few seconds of airtime.
In recent weeks, major brands including Nike, ESPN and HBO have made public statements in support of the Asian American communities and against the racially motivated attacks. Their messages encourage consumers to contribute to the ongoing work of groups such as Asian Americans to advance justice, Asian Americans for Equality, Compassion Oakland, Send Chinatown Love, and Stop AAPI Hate.
It’s a good start, although Toda says she wants to see more alliances from white decision makers across brands, within companies and among the general public to understand why addressing issues of race and racial profiling is so important.
“White colleagues will say, ‘It’s a great question. We all have jobs and now we have to consider prejudice, race and nuance every day,'” Toda says. “Well yeah, now you know what it’s like to live in my skin, or to live in the skin of a black or Latino person, we also have to consider that while doing our work. That’s empathy and perspective.
He also believes that brands can do more to leverage their multi-million dollar coffers to contribute directly to justice organizations.
Employers should examine anti-Asian bias at work
Toda also wants organizational leaders to use this time to examine how they perpetuate the myth of the model minority in the workplace. Toda has seen what some call the “bamboo ceiling” in effect in her own professional network, in which, due to racial prejudice, Asian American professionals are the demographic groups least likely to be promoted to leadership.
Researchers say that employers can do better by examining the promotion gaps for Asian American and Pacific Islander employees and providing better pathways to opportunity, such as through leadership training programs or mentors. Hiring decision makers must also be trained to recognize and actively confront their own racial biases when evaluating candidates.
Toda says his employer has “been extremely supportive” in his confrontation with the problem of anti-Asian discrimination and is working with him to implement internal and external changes; Ultimately, he says that talking is a “deeply personal” goal.
For its part, Facebook provided the following statement to CNBC Make It upon request: “We support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, including our many colleagues on Facebook. We condemn any and all acts of xenophobia, violence and intolerance, and Given the rise in anti-Asian sentiment, we are on the lookout for any threats. We ban hate speech and community violence and our teams are working to keep it off our platform. We are examining the investments we have made to support justice in the AAPI community and we are exploring what else we can do. “
Facebook Diversity Director Maxine Williams shared a post Wednesday expressing her solidarity with the AAPIs and her colleagues.
The gaps in training in corporate diversity
Within the organizations themselves, corporate diversity and anti-racism trainings often sidestep issues of discrimination toward Asian American employees, leaving workplaces ill-equipped to handle this particular moment’s discussions.
“A large majority [of DEI leaders] I don’t know how to talk about Asian American issues in a complex and nuanced way, “says Michelle Kim, CEO of diversity training provider Awaken. She adds that, unless leaders have been active in studying the history and participation in In conversations about the Asian experience in America, “most people end up focusing on race as a very black and white issue.”
Toda also sees this problem: “We still consider ourselves adjacent to whites. That is not the truth. If you want to be anti-racist, you must include all racism against minorities.”
While Toda is glad that the issues of anti-Asian racism are getting attention right now, he urges companies to do more, whether through their HR or diversity and inclusion functions, to support marginalized employees. and underrepresented in all identity spectra.
“I’m well aware that in the marketing arena, this is likely to be the social justice flavor of the month. Next month, it could be another minority group,” he says.
“The conversation always comes back to: How are you being anti-racist and supporting your entire community and employee base with education and support, so that when it happens to another community in the future, you’re ready?
“The reality is,” says Toda, “being anti-racist is not something for 2020. It is not even something for 2021. It is something forever.”
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