Billionaire businessman Joe Tsai told CNBC on Tuesday that Asian Americans have been unfairly exposed to violent backlash for various challenges the US has faced throughout history.
In an interview on Squawk Box, the co-founder and vice chairman of China-based technology giant Alibaba gave a personal and historical reflection on the rise in racist attacks on Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If the economy is doing well, Asian Americans are playing by the rules and thriving with everyone else, that’s fine,” said Tsai, who owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
“But when there is a crisis – if there is a pandemic, a war or an economic downturn – Asian Americans become scapegoats,” added Tsai, whose parents were from mainland China. Born in Taiwan, he came to the United States at the age of 13 to attend boarding school in New Jersey. He received his bachelor’s and law degrees from Yale.
Tsai noted the restrictions on Chinese immigration that were introduced in the late 19th century and lasted well into the 20th century, as well as the United States, which forced more than 100,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II.
He also recalled the assassination of Vincent Chin in 1982 when Japanese automakers expanded their operations in the United States. Chin, a Chinese-American, was attacked in Detroit by two white auto workers who believed Japan was responsible for the problems facing the US auto industry.
“There’s a lot of that undertone of anti-Asian sentiment. If things are good, that’s fine. When things are bad for everyone, these ugly” anti-Asian attitudes come out, “Tsai said.
The recent surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has spurred US lawmakers to take action. In May, President Joe Biden signed bipartisan law that gives law enforcement agencies additional tools to improve the reporting and investigation of such incidents.
“Everyone thinks Covid comes from China, and as a Chinese I felt it personally,” said Tsai. “There was a time when every day you wake up you see a new report of an anti-Asian hate crime,” he added.
Tsai serves on the board of directors of the recently formed Asian American Foundation, founded this year with the aim of serving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through a wide range of philanthropic activities. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, KKR co-president Joseph Bae and Himalaya Capital founder Li Lu are also on the board.
Tsai said the group plans to immediately begin addressing the lack of foundations and corporate donations specifically intended for Asian Americans and Pacific islanders. Last month, the Asian American Foundation announced that it had already received more than $ 1 billion in pledges.
“Not all the money will … go to the foundation,” said Tsai. “Most of the money is being spent on other Asian-American organizations that are doing a great job against hatred, getting people to vote, and all the great work they are doing.”