Beyond hashtags: Solidarity against Anti-Asian violence

Julia Huang, CEO, Intertrend Communications
Julia Huang, CEO, Intertrend Communications

Let’s take this opportunity to start a genuine effort to end systematic racism in our industry and country.

In a world where kneeling respectfully for one's beliefs or wearing a mask leads to outcries, and where lip-servicing and patronizing is easily called out, it’s not surprising that the advertising industry stays neutral by staying silent. 

We are brand stewards, measuring success on positivity quotients, KPIs and ROI. We are trained to shy away from controversy. But as social and racial injustices in society persist, we’ve been forced to take a stance. 

Agencies and brands have pledged their commitment to creating more diversity, equity and inclusion, not because more products or services will sell, but because we will be on the right side of history. 

Close to 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans have been reported since March 2020, reaching a horrendous crescendo on March 16, when a shooting in Atlanta killed eight people, including six Asian women. 

Condemnation of violence and statements of support from the industry were swift. But denouncing violence and hate should never be difficult. What happens after another headline takes over and horrific anti-Asian crimes fade from our memories?

As the head of an Asian American agency, the helpless rage I feel has been heavy. To say that we had to come out of our comfort zone is an understatement. I have had to push myself to "stand up and speak up." It’s an easy enough slogan to use as a hashtag or on a placard, but taxing to act upon.

Last year, my agency started an initiative called Make Noise Today, which advocates for authentic Asian American storytelling, rather than accepting monolithic narratives on how we are perceived by society to shape our identity. We can combat racism by amplifying stories of heritage and accomplishments, challenges and grit, inspiration and culture.

Yet the stories we have had to tell these last few weeks have been heartbreaking. So we’ve taken out full page ads in The New York Times and posted stories across cities to advocate for #StopAsianHate and call for unity. 

We are in a collective battle against systemic racism, and it’s essential that Asian American experiences be included in that conversation. Our industry can do its part by unlearning the hierarchical way we look at multicultural markets. We won’t achieve social justice by prioritizing one race over another. Include Asian American voices in discussions about racism.

Years ago, a client of ours decided to bring all of its agency partners together under a unified model to reach a more diverse audience. In a continuously pivoting process, one thing never changed: there was no separation between the multicultural and “general” market. Everyone at the table, with no dominating voice. 

It wasn’t easy. There were uncomfortable discussions. It could have gone wrong in a thousand ways, if the directive was unclear from the client, or if the agencies distrusted each other. While we may have sacrificed efficiency, we gained in equality and allyship.

As we reflect on the waves of crime against Asian Americans and other marginalized communities this past year, we must take this opportunity to start a genuine effort to end systematic racism in our industry and country.

Together, let us not be silent anymore. 

Julia Huang is CEO of Intertrend Communications

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