GBH All Things Considered host Arun Rath spoke with BU professor Hyeouk Chris Hahm about the surge in racist incidents targeting Asian Americans. She's been looking at the toll racism, racist harassment and racist attacks have been taking on Asian Americans. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: It's an interesting time to be an Asian American. By interesting, I mean complicated and ugly, and frankly a little scary. You may have seen the video of the latest hate crime out of New York City. A man on the street shouts a slur at an Asian woman, beats her to the ground and starts kicking and stomping her in the security camera video. We see a security guard watching the whole thing from a few feet away inside a building. He finally walks forward and closes the door on the woman. It's wrong to make human beings into symbols, but it's impossible for some of us to miss how that scene, in a way, reflects the big picture. Asian Americans are being targeted, harassed, attacked and assaulted at higher levels than ever. More often than not, it's Asian women who are the targets, and it feels like most people are ignoring it or, like that security guard, doing nothing.

We've just come through a year when we've seen a spike in violence against Asian Americans. We've talked with people who have been targeted. But you have a sense of the mental toll this is taking on young people. Could you tell us about what you found?

Hahm: So we conducted an online survey of Asian American young people, and what we found was that almost 70%, so two-thirds of these young Asian Americans, they themselves or their family members have been exposed to COVID-19 related discrimination. We found that 15% reported they were exposed to verbal or physical assaults.

Rath: There's kind of a definitional problem that a lot of people talk about with Asian American, because we're talking about such a wide range of individuals. This even came up with what happened in Georgia. I know that there are a lot of Asian people that are like, "I don't feel attached to that. Those are people that are nothing like me." Yyou and I are talking, and I'm of Indian American background. We're from completely different backgrounds, but we also end up in the same categorization that makes it difficult to talk about at times.

Hahn: Yes, that is true. You know, when you think about it, Asian Americans have the most diversity — diversity in terms of language, diversity in terms of ethnicity, diversity in terms of the socioeconomic ladder. So, for instance, Indians have the highest socioeconomic status, whereas Hmong, Cambodians, Laotians, they have the lowest socioeconomic status. And those people who were killed, Koreans, they are a little bit lower than average in terms of socioeconomic status in America. With Asian Americans, many of them are undocumented immigrants. So now, we are talking about not only race but also gender and the law. We have a lot of different intersectionality issues here. That's what it is very difficult for these many different types of Asian Americans to work together to develop a sense of unified identity. I think that this is a really, really big challenge for us to fight against a lot of things that we have to fight for. For instance, developing political power, and also developing a sense of identity. Another thing is the language barriers. We have maybe 20, 30 different languages. More than 50% of Asian Americans are immigrants, and many of them still have language barriers and still do not feel comfortable speaking English.

Rath: Let's talk about the stereotypes, because even as diverse as the Asian American community is, this "model minority" thing seems to play across whatever your country of origin might be. There's this idea, again, like, what's bad about being a "model minority"? I mean, aside from the fact that it's used as an implicit insult to African Americans, it's also it's not good for Asians, rght?

Hahm: One of the most challenging problems of being considered as a "model minority" is that there is a notion that we do not have problems. And because you don't have problems, there are going to be no resources sent or dedicated or developed for your kind. That is a problem. So I'll give you a very good example. A study was published recently, and what it shows was that for the last 26 years, the National Institutes of Health spent only 0.17% of the total budget for clinical research on Asian Americans, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. That's over 26 years. Can you believe this? Asian Americans make up 6% of the U.S. population. Another problem is that children, adolescents, the young, if they don't meet high expectations, they feel really anxious, deeply depressed, because the family is expecting them to become a very high achiever and society is looking at you to become a very high achiever. This is really difficult for the young people, the young generation, to have this amount of burden. Therefore they have a lot of mental health issues. The depression rate is higher, and their anxiety level is higher, than other racial groups. However, because of the model minority issue, again, these people have a very difficult time seeking treatment. The study also shows that Asian American students, college students and adolescents, utilize mental health clinicians the least.

Rath: The other thing I wanted to talk to you about was, when we're talking about different generations, I feel like among Asian Americans, there's a real age divide in how we perceive this. I think about my parents' generation, where the tendency honestly was, let's not talk about race. Even for my generation, I honestly have had moments. A great example is, I had to have a younger Indian American explain to me why Apu was offensive on The Simpsons. I didn't get it. Then I was like, oh, wow. You know, I get it. Is that something that you see kind of clinically, this change or evolution of perception? And what does that mean?

Hahm: Yes, racism against Asians has always been there. First of all, sometimes we do not want to acknowledge the existence of the racism against Asians. Number two, it's too shameful to talk about racism against Asians. Number three, again, going back to what I said, more than 50% of migrants are from Asia, and when you live in Asian countries, because everybody is Asian, the majority of them don't really experience racism. They don't even understand what it is. So when they come to this country, unless you live here a long time, you don't really feel it. You can't really define racism. So there are a lot of lost times to be able to articulate and to able to share the lived experience that is called racism. There are many, many reasons why we don't do this. However, COVID-19 really woke us up, and we're at a crossroads because the violence is upon us. Now I think it's a really great opportunity, actually, that Asian Americans wake up and realize that, you know what? Unless we talk about racism and focus on this really dangerous prejudice and bias against Asians, we are going to be the victims, and this is not going to stop.

And history repeats, and history will continue to repeat. It's not only affecting our own health — it is going to affect our own children and the next generation.