Not Your Token Asian

100 AAPI Beauty Leaders Were Attacked On Zoom. The Industry Stayed Quiet

Despite a documented increase in attacks against Asian Americans, nearly one third of Americans are still unaware that they are happening — and it’s affecting the AAPI beauty community in more ways than we realize.

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An AAPI beauty webinar is the last place I’d think would be the site of a hate crime, but then again, after the past two years we’ve had, nothing really surprises me anymore. Even though this event's attendance included famous AAPI actresses, thriving AAPI beauty founders, and the most influential AAPI beauty influencers, it couldn't protect any of us from the malicious attacks our community as a whole had been experiencing. So why then did it shock me that this incredibly traumatizing event that affected so many of us was seen as a small blip by the industry — some inconsequential occurrence that was unfortunate, but no bigger deal than the discontinuation of a beloved makeup product?
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On January 24, I logged into a digital conversation hosted by AAPI-founded skin care brands Cocokind and Tower 28 and moderated by actress Olivia Munn and Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the executive director of NAPAWF, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Munn and Choimorrow spent the first 20 minutes talking about AAPI advocacy, identity, and their personal experiences as Asian Americans living in the face of rising anti-Asian violence, specifically against Asian women. More than 100 of my fellow Asian American beauty peers filled the chat with messages voicing their similar sentiments and thanking Munn and Choimorrow for sharing their platform. Suddenly, in that same chat box, an unusual message popped up. Before anyone could really decipher it, someone had taken over the screen and began sharing disturbing images of dead bodies, animal corpses, and naked children. A voice screamed, “Ching Chong!” I immediately clicked the X on the window and pushed my laptop away, feeling completely horrified, nauseous, and flummoxed all at the same time.
I had heard about Zoom bombs, of course, but during this “new normal” of digital hangouts, I had never experienced it myself. But this seemed different than just a random attack; this felt targeted. And how ironic would that be — a hate crime during a webinar about coming together against hate crimes? “I don’t know how to feel. I’m in a state of shock. I’m on the verge of tears and completely shaken,” a friend texted me after we both had logged off. Despite all this, Munn, Choimorrow, Cocokind founder Priscilla Tsai, and Tower 28 founder Amy Liu decided to log back on. “We move on by holding space for each other and for this community, supporting one another and continuing to do the work, and not letting this defeat us,” Tsai said to everyone. “It feels weird saying that when all we feel is complete defeat and shock right now.”
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People who attended the event took to social media to share what had happened, myself included. Hours passed and I could count how many people reached out to check on me on one hand. I was surprised. This seemed like a big deal, especially for the beauty community. I asked my friends who had posted — they said the same. “Maybe people just don’t know what to say,” one of them texted.

It really made me wonder — was this silence because people were unaware of the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes? Was it because they couldn’t relate to the situation or didn’t know how they could help? Or was it because the model minority myth says that AAPI-founded beauty brands and the AAPI beauty community in general are successful and, therefore, not in need of support? Or worse — did they think we deserved it?

It made me think about Tsai’s message again — one of hope, strength, but confusion — having the courage to move on, even though we felt completely helpless. It was a familiar feeling for members of the Asian American community over the past two years. According to a report released by LAAUNCH.org (Leading Asian Americans United for Change) and TAAF (The Asian American Foundation), despite a documented increase in attacks against Asian Americans, nearly one third of Americans were still unaware that they were happening. These hate crimes and attacks were, in fact, occurring at an alarming rate — not just to random pockets of the AAPI community, but to all of us, and now one that I was a part of. And yet, it felt like only a small percentage of people outside the AAPI community was acknowledging it. I felt crazy. But this gaslighting is something that sadly is part of the ongoing racism we tend to experience as Asian people, Melissa Magsaysay, journalist and Head of Content at Thirteen Lune tells me.
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“Anti-Asian hate crimes were up 339 percent in 2021, compared to the year before. These alarming and upsetting facts on top of an ongoing pandemic are real cause for concern and anxiety. However, yes; I think the AAPI community has been gaslit to feel that these incidents of hate are not serious,” she tells me.
David Yi, CEO and co-founder of good light, echoes Magsaysay’s sentiments. “As an advocate and activist since I was younger, hate and violence against AAPI is nothing new. The history of AAPI in this country has been one based on violence and otherism.” Yi tells me. Yi was actually on the same Zoom call, and while he was shocked by the attack, it wasn’t totally surprising. “I don’t think there was a lot of support when it came to what happened because not a lot of people know that Asian Americans can be victims when it comes to hate attacks because there’s a lack of coverage and education around that. There’s less sympathy because it’s not as exposed.”
Tsai adds, “It was just really hurtful to me, seeing some of the voices in the industry that are the loudest, whether it was a brand owner or influencer who typically has a lot of passion and voice and volume in the space — their silence was so loud.”
It really made me wonder — was this silence because people were unaware of the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes? Was it because they couldn’t relate to the situation or didn’t know how they could help? Or was it because the model minority myth says that AAPI-founded beauty brands and the AAPI beauty community in general are successful and, therefore, not in need of support? Or worse — did they think we deserved it?
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If you do a quick Google search for AAPI-founded beauty brands, founders, and experts, or influencers, you will find no shortage of products, services, and people to support. And while many are successful, taking up space at some of the biggest beauty retailers and corporations, they all were still majorly impacted by the pandemic, and the increase in anti-Asian attacks that came with it, arguably more than others.
“While some of us have done remarkably well in this country, many still need so much help and resources,” says Yi.

I could continue to speculate on all the reasons why there has been a lack of support or protection for the AAPI beauty community. I may never find a real, concrete answer, no matter how many times I go over the statistics. I’m hoping that in my search, I’ll instead find that I was wrong and that more people outside of the AAPI community are supporting us and using their platforms to increase awareness and representation.

According to NBC News, more than 80 percent of AAPI-owned businesses reported negative effects due to the onset of Covid. Approximately 45 percent had to lose or let go of employees, and 10 percent had to close their business. The earlier survey I mentioned from LAAUNCH.org and TAAF found that 71 percent of Asian Americans say they are discriminated against in the United States today, which is likely linked to the finding that almost a quarter of respondents in the study agreed that Asian Americans are at least partly responsible for COVID-19. What’s more, the organization Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., found that 68 percent of the incidents reported between March 2020 and March 2021 targeted women
When you look at these statistics, it makes sense why the AAPI beauty community was so heavily impacted and targeted — a majority of AAPI-owned brands are small businesses and a majority of the AAPI beauty community are women or women-identifying. Beyond that, Asian women have contributed significantly to the beauty and wellness industry, whether it’s through products and brands or by being professional beauty technicians (according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, 40 percent of the nail salon industry is made up of Asian women). We saw these statistics prove to be true last August when six of the eight victims in the Atlanta spa shooting were Asian women.
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I could continue to speculate on all the reasons why there has been a lack of support or protection for the AAPI beauty community. I may never find a real, concrete answer, no matter how many times I go over the statistics. I’m hoping that in my search, I’ll instead find that I was wrong and that more people outside of the AAPI community are supporting us and using their platforms to increase awareness and representation. That people don’t need to have experienced the hateful, racist attacks that we have to acknowledge that we’re hurting. That everyone is able to recognize the many beautiful, painstaking contributions we as a community have made to the industry. And that they uplift us as friends and allies, and above all, treat us as equals.
Until then, it seems the AAPI beauty founder community will look to one another for support. “I hope that by banding together, we can continue to be stronger together and grow awareness to put an end to the hate and violence,” says Michelle Ranavat, founder of RANAVAT. “The AAPI community has been incredibly supportive throughout my entire journey, and I’m excited to see AAPI founders and brands become even more mainstream.” 
Tower 28 founder Amy Liu also remains positive. “The silver lining is that I’ve found our community – my peers, our customers, and friends in the beauty industry – rallying behind us, eager to learn more about ways to help,” she tells me. 
And while others may continue to stay silent, Tsai reminds us not to be afraid to use our voices and ask for more support.
“It starts with us. We need to step into our identity and demand it. It’s OK for it to be an uncomfortable thing — to say, hey, we need more support. It’s OK to be bold. Part of our natural tendency as Asian Americans is to not ruffle any feathers, but you have to use your platform and be willing to ask for help.”

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