Sep 5, 2021 - Politics & Policy

How the yellow whistle became a symbol against anti-Asian hate

The Yellow Whistle. Photo: Courtesy of The Yellow Whistle campaign
The Yellow Whistle. Photo: Courtesy of The Yellow Whistle campaign

In the centuries since Asians first arrived in the United States, the color yellow has dogged their steps. It's been weaponized as a derogatory slur and exploited to villainize Asians as the Yellow Peril. In the last few decades, however, Asian Americans have sought to reclaim the term "yellow."

Driving the news: One such campaign is "The Yellow Whistle," a self-protection program launched this year by Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, owners of Kampgrounds of America (KOA), and four others in the wake of pandemic-fueled anti-Asian hate.

How it works: The whistle, designed to fit around the wrist for ease of access, gives people — especially elders — a way to signal alarm. It has the words "We belong" stamped on the side, and stands as a symbol against the "historical tyranny" of racism at large, per the campaign site.

  • More than 350,000 free whistles have been distributed at hundreds of locations since April, including at some of KOA's 520 sites across North America.
  • Non-Asians are also encouraged to take a whistle as a sign of solidarity.

What they’re saying: "People are afraid to go out, and that's an invasion of their right," Tang told Axios. "We shouldn't have to take into our own hands physical protection from outside violence."

  • But hopefully, wearing the simple device can "give them a little bit more confidence to venture out," Tang added, calling it a "demand for action."
  • "Yellow has a special significance for Asians," Tang noted. Reclaiming it in this way enables Asian Americans to know they have allies no matter where they go, he said.
A man receives a yellow whistle. Photo: Courtesy of The Yellow Whistle campaign
Photo: Courtesy of The Yellow Whistle campaign

The big picture: The Yellow Whistle is one of several safety campaigns — including daily patrols, self-defense programs and pepper spray and personal alarm distribution — that Asian Americans have launched since the pandemic began.

  • The programs come as Asians and Asian Americans experience an uptick in attacks. In 16 of the largest U.S. cities, anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 145% in 2020, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
  • Stop AAPI Hate has collected over 9,000 self-reported incidents of anti-AAPI hate since March 2020. Nearly half included at least one hateful statement with anti-China and/or anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The bottom line: The message behind The Yellow Whistle is "something that we should subscribe to," Tang said. "It's definitely become a rallying cry for Asians, standing up for our rights."

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