Books

13 Books About Anti-Asian Racism To Understand It Better

A reading list for anyone wanting to dismantle racism against Asian Americans today.

On March 16, eight people — six of whom were women of Asian descent — were killed in mass shootings at three different spas in Atlanta, Georgia. The attacks came as anti-Asian hate crimes rise across the U.S.; over 3,800 were reported in the last year alone, per CNN, and thousands more have likely gone unreported. But rather than acknowledge this, a white sheriff told the press that the 21-year-old white male shooting suspect was “having a really bad day” — further illuminating how entrenched anti-Asian racism is in this country.

The fatal Atlanta attack has led to worldwide calls for solidarity with AAPI communities — and a surge in interest around the role anti-Asian racism has played in American history. It’s also prompted a lot of self-reflection among white Americans on the pervasiveness of anti-Asian racism, from the idea of the “yellow peril” to the oft-touted “model minority” stereotype. Self-education is a great first step to combat internalized and institutionalized anti-Asian paradigms — and infinitely better than placing the responsibility on an Asian friend to educate you.

Whether you’re finding it very hard to wrap around your head around how anti-Asian racism became embedded in American culture, or want to know how best to fight racism in ways that benefit Asian communities, these texts can help. Here are 13 books that will help you understand anti-Asian racism, and what to do about it.

1

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

One World/Cathy Park Hong

This prizewinning book by poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong lays bare the ways in which Asian Americans have been made into second-class citizens, excluded, stereotyped, and silenced. A “minor feeling” describes a particular phenomenon experienced by marginalized communities, wherein “your perception of reality is always denied by the dominant culture,” the author told Vox in 2021. Interweaving autobiography, art criticism, and more, Minor Feelings exposes that dissonance, and the unique discomfort it creates.

Buy it here.

2

Yellow Peril!: An Archive Of Anti-Asian Fear by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats

Verso Books/John Kuo Wei Tchen & Dylan Yeats

This is one of the most comprehensive records ever made of anti-Asian texts and images, examining cultural artifacts dating from European colonialism through to the present day. The pop culture archive evidences the ways in which the concept of “yellow peril” has shaped white people’s treatment of Asian communities for centuries.

Buy it here.

3

Myth of the Modern Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism by Rosalind S. Chou and Joe R. Feagin

Routledge/Rosalind S. Chou & Joe R. Feagin

The idea of the “model minority” has been a mainstay of white Americans’ perception of Asian Americans since the 1950s, but this scholarly book deconstructs that idea from the ground up. It records experiences of racism from dozens of Asian Americans, and confronts the realities of surviving in America as an Asian person. The second edition of the book adds in new context about how sex and gender play into anti-Asian racism.

Buy it here.

4

The Making Of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

Simon & Schuster/Erika Lee

Erika Lee is one of the foremost scholars on Asian American life, and The Making Of Asian America is her magnum opus. It resurfaces silenced or forgotten aspects of Asian American history, from the first wave of migrants in the 19th century to the internment camps of World War II and the arrival of Hmong refugees in the 1980s. It’s an epic picture of ever-shifting discrimination — and of those who survived it.

Buy it here.

5

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang

Picador/Jeff Chang

This wide-ranging collection of essays features Chang’s incisive perspective on the protest movements and racial turbulence of the past decade. He shows how segregation, far from being a thing of the past, continues to rear its head and affects the fight for racial equality in myriad ways — including entrenching the “in-betweenness” of Asian American communities.

Buy it here.

6

Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture by Robert G. Lee

Temple University Press/Robert G. Lee

First published in 1999, this book has been a classic for 20 years. Using depictions of Asian stereotypes from the 19th and 20th centuries, Lee shows how the idea of the “Oriental,” with six distinct sub-types — including the “pollutant” and the “deviant” — took shape in white Americans’ minds. These categories, Lee shows, still shape anti-Asian racism today.

Buy it here.

7

America For Americans: A History Of Xenophobia In The United States by Erika Lee

Basic Books/Erika Lee

In America for Americans, Erika Lee takes a wider perspective on the ways in which racial prejudice has shaped white American culture, starting with its colonial beginnings. She traces the history of xenophobic fear of Asian Americans, alongside many others — including Germans, Mexicans, and Indigenous communities — and shows how a fundamental race fear has been central to American identity for centuries.

Buy it here.

8

The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority by Ellen D. Wu

Princeton University Press/Ellen Wu

The journey from the “yellow peril” to the “model minority” has been a complicated one for Asian Americans. Wu’s book details how the second myth emerged from the first, and where it found its roots: in places as diverse as Hawaii’s fight for statehood and the rise of the zoot suit in the 1950s. The author shows how the stereotype casts Asian Americans as perpetual outsiders: legitimized but always “other.”

Buy it here.

9

Asian American Dreams: The Emergence Of an American People by Helen Zia

Pan Macmillan/Helen Zia

Zia tracks the growth of the concept of an Asian American identity — one that combines dozens of ethnic backgrounds and languages into a single racial group, capable of wielding political and cultural power. She looks back at the historical violence, discrimination, and socioeconomic factors that drew many disparate Asian migrant populations together over time.

Buy it here.

10

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo

Norton Young Readers/Paula Yoo

One of the incidents featured in Zia’s book gets a full-length treatment here. Vincent Chin, an automotive worker of Chinese descent, was murdered at his bachelor party in 1982 by two white men who believed him to be Japanese. The murderers received no jail time and a paltry $3,000 in fines. Yoo’s book shows how outrage over Chin’s fate became a critical, galvanizing moment for Asian American political activism.

Buy it here.

11

Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics by Lisa Lowe

Duke University Press/Lisa Lowe

Lowe’s Immigrant Acts argues that to understand America’s racialized politics, you need to know its history of anti-Asian discrimination. Asian Americans, she says, disprove the idea that minorities have assimilated into the great American “melting pot” — that their position as permanent “others,” outside the dominant culture, challenges America’s myths about itself.

Buy it here.

12

Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown by Nayan Shah

University of California Press/Nayan Shah

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first time the Asian community in the U.S. has been racially scapegoated for an illness. Shah shows that the Asian migrants of the 19th century were treated as filthy and potentially diseased, causing deep-rooted anti-AAPI prejudices — and inspiring generations of Asian Americans to fight for their right to be treated as equal citizens.

Buy it here.

13

Yellow: Race In America Beyond Black and White by Frank H. Wu

Basic Books/Frank Wu

In Yellow, Wu demands that Asian Americans be included in the fight for racial equality in America. He interweaves his own experiences (as a Chinese American who taught at Howard University, an HBCU), with arguments disproving the “model minority” myth, and thoughts on how Asian Americans can get a seat at the table when it comes to achieving racial justice.

Buy it here.