How to be an ally for Asian Americans facing racism amid COVID-19

As the coronavirus has continued spreading across the United States, so too has the false belief that Asian Americans are to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic.

State officials are investigating reports of name-calling to denial of services that Minnesotans of Asian descent have been experiencing. And as Minnesota eases up on restrictions on daily life — and everything from schools to shopping malls begin to reopen — some Asian American community members fear these incidents will only increase.

MPR News reached out to a historian and community leaders and asked for their advice for non-Asian Americans to become allies to their peers during this difficult time. 

All four respondents were part of an MPR virtual town hall on racism during COVID-19, which you can watch here. Here are their written tips for being an ally.  

Bo Thao-Urabe | Executive director, Coalition of Asian American Leaders

Bo Thao Urabe
Bo Thao Urabe
Submitted image

“The most important thing we can do in this moment is to understand, acknowledge, and relearn our American history of racism. What's happening now to Asian Americans is not new. Instead of allyship, we need to be in unity against racism. Being in unity means we don't let communities stand or solve the problem alone; instead, we collectively call out interpersonal and systemic acts of racialized violence. There is always something we can on our own and something we can do together. Ending racism takes everyone.”


Rebecca Lucero | Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Human Rights 

Rebecca Lucero
Rebecca Lucero
Submitted image

“Lead with love: be intentional about letting people know that they are welcome and valued. If you see discrimination or hate, speak up! You can also report discrimination and bias to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights by calling 1-833-454-0148.”


Erika Lee | Regents professor of history and American studies, University of Minnesota

Erika Lee
Erika Lee
Photo by Eric Mueller

Lee said she intends her tip to apply for both allies and victims of racism: "We all need to understand how anti-Asian xenophobia is just one example of how the pandemic is disproportionately impacting poor, African American, Latinx, Asian American, and Indigenous communities; groups that were already vulnerable to economic inequality, health disparities, and social exclusion. We need to support each other in order to move forward together."


Sam Ouk | Faribault Public Schools’ equity and multilingual programs coordinator

Sam Ouk
Sam Ouk
Submitted image

“Hate and racist acts against Asian Americans have been on the rise due to COVID-19.  And like all acts of hate, it cannot be left unchallenged. Speak out against these acts at any given chance. Teachers and people who work with youth, especially, have a very important role to play. If this is your line of work, use the opportunity to teach and equip youth with healthy ways to respond to hate. Even if you don't have Asian students in your class, the wrongful acts of these events need to be called out. Bias and hate need to be dispelled. The biggest barrier for Asian Americans is the constant invisibility and silencing forced upon them. Asian American issues are American issues. More platforms need to be given to highlight this American story. The Asian American story needs to be heard and a united effort needs to be put forth to illuminate the contributions of Asian Americans throughout history.”


May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This program is part of MPR’s “Call to Mind” initiative to promote discussion about mental health and well-being. For more resources from Call to Mind, visit this page.

If you’d like to listen to the town hall event, use the audio player above.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.