U.S. Olympian Suni Lee Reveals She Was Pepper-Sprayed During Racist Attack

Photo: Instagram
Suni Lee

American gymnast Suni Lee, who made history at the Tokyo Olympics this summer after being the first Asian-American to win a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition, recently revealed she’d been the victim of an anti-Asian attack.

Lee, who is Hmong-American, shared the story of the incident, which happened in October in an interview where she discussed what it's like being Asian in America.

Suni Lee was pepper sprayed in an anti-Asian attack. 

Lee, 18, said she was waiting for an Uber in Los Angeles with her friends, who were also of Asian descent, when a car pulled up to the group and the occupants in the vehicle screamed slurs and told them to “go back to where they came from.” 

As the car sped off, one of the passengers pepper-sprayed Lee’s arm.

“I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off,” Lee said in an interview with Pop Sugar.

“I didn’t do anything to them, and having the reputation, it’s so hard because I didn’t want to do anything that could get me into trouble. I just let it happen.”

Lee, who has been very open about growing up in a tight-knit Hmong community in St. Paul, Minnesota, captured the attention of millions on the Olympic stage after gold medalist Simone Biles withdrew from the Games for mental health reasons.

The kind of racist attack that Lee described has been prominent against Asian-Americans since the beginning of the pandemic.

RELATED: What The Media Gets Wrong About Anti-Asian Hate

Other Olympians have shared similar stories. 

The news of Lee’s attack comes after U.S. karate Olympian Sakura Kokumai revealed on her Instagram that she faced verbal abuse in April. 

A man had approached Kokumai, who is Japanese American, while she was on the phone at a Southern California park and yelled at her while no one came to help her.

Thousands of Asian-Americans have reported being harassed or assaulted – the hate crimes disproportionately affecting Asian women.

Advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate has recorded more than 9,000 self-reported hate incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders since March 2020, and more than 63% of those reports were made by women.

A recent report by a coalition tracking racism and discrimination against Asian-Americans shows that there were at least 4,533 incidents in the first six months of this year as well as advocates say numerous other attacks have taken place over the summer.

RELATED: The Disturbing Psychology Behind Anti-Asian Racism, According To A Behavioral Scientist

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Hey You! Want more of YourTango's best articles, seriously addictive horoscopes and top expert advice? Sign up to get our free daily newsletter!

Many of the xenophobic attacks have stemmed from misinformation being spread surrounding COVD-19, and seemed to only become worse from former President Trump’s constant reference to it being the “China virus” and repeatedly blaming China for the coronavirus.

The most notable attack against the Asian-American community happened in Atlanta after a gunman went on a shooting rampage, targeting three different spas and killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women.

The number of Asian-American attacks are predicted to be higher as many agencies don’t report the data to the FBI as well as not reporting these hate crimes in general.

The fear of coming forward and talking to police creates a barrier between authorities and the Asian-American community, which were the same concerns Suni Lee voiced about her own attack.

It puts into perspective that just because these crimes aren’t making the front pages of media outlets doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to Asian-Americans.

They are continuing to experience the horrible anti-Asian hate, which leaves the rest of the country to wonder how we can help spread awareness and put an end to these xenophobic attacks.

RELATED: Celebrities Speaking Out On Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.