Abstract: Lived Experiences of Racism during COVID-19 Pandemic in Deep South: Voices and Resolutions from Young Korean American Adults (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Lived Experiences of Racism during COVID-19 Pandemic in Deep South: Voices and Resolutions from Young Korean American Adults

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Cave Creek, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Cho Rong Won, MSW, PhD student, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Yunju Nam, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Buffalo, NY
Hee Yun Lee, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, Endowed Academic Chair in Social Work (Health), and Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
Background: Amid COVID-19, Asian Hate incidents have increased nationally, and more than 9,000 incidents have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. Due to the stereotypical image about the virus as the “China virus” or “Wuhan virus”, all Asians in the US became a target to the growing discomfort that the pandemic aroused. New reports show that Korean Americans are also susceptible to this subtle racism. Korean Americans are the 5th largest group among Asian Americans in the US with 55% increase in the population during last two decades. Specifically, they are the largest group of Asian Americans in the state of Alabama, but no research has been conducted to understand their experience of racism. This paper aims (a) to understand direct and indirect experiences and responses to Asian hate incidents among young Korean adults in Alabama and (b) to discuss an action plan and suggestions for intervention and policy advocacy for Korean Americans against Anti-Asian hate incidents.

Methods: A phenomenological design was used to gather in-depth information on the lived experiences of race-related discrimination. Those who identified as a current student at the participating university and of Korean ethnicity were recruited. Both English and Korean version of flyers were posted on the Korean student association Facebook and emailed to Korean professors to distribute to students. Interested participants were asked to fill out a brief interest survey which asked their preferred method of contact and interview language (English or Korean). A semi-structured interview was conducted with a sample of 11 students via Zoom. Guided by an inductive approach to qualitative analysis, interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using NVivo by two research team members.

Findings: Seven were males, and four were females. The range of years in the US was from 2 months to 15 years, with only one identifying as naturalized citizen. The analysis revealed four themes: experiences, causes, impact, and suggestion. Regarding Asian hate experiences, participants reported experiences that happened before and after COVID-19, feelings and responses to the direct or indirect experiences, and location of the experience. As the causes of Asian Hate, participants mentioned COVID-19, existing hate crimes, human instinct, and ignorance. Moreover, Asian Hate had impact on their mental health, sense of belonging in the US, and at limited scope of living areas (e.g., staying home more than going out). Lastly, participants reported prevention effort should be made from four entities: individual, Asian community organization, police, and government.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings highlight that hate crimes were prominent even before COVID-19, and the pandemic helped to bring the issue to light. The type of Asian Hate crimes experienced by the participants were mainly microaggression that can be harmful and hurtful when it persists. Hence, education on microaggression is needed among the public and Asian Americans themselves to acknowledge its potential harmful impact along with a protocol that support victims of Asian Hate. Lastly, by working with local community organizations, providing cultural education will also support to bridge the gap of “otherness”.