The Rise in Anti-Asian Sentiment Must Also Come With a Rise in Awareness

Hate crimes targeted at Asian Americans have now jumped by triple-digit percentages. It is time to act in solidarity against xenophobia.

Asian American communities, such as those in midtown Manhattans Koreatown, are suffering at the hands of anti-Asian violence.

Alex Tembelis

Asian American communities, such as those in midtown Manhattan’s Koreatown, are suffering at the hands of anti-Asian violence.

3,795.

That is how many anti-Asian hate crimes were reported nationwide since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.  

March 2020 marked a significant shift in everyone’s lives as the world went into lockdown, but it also marked the beginning of a rising tide of attacks and xenophobia against Asian communities across the globe. 

In major cities like New York City and Los Angeles, hate crimes jumped by 150%, an all-time high. Viral videos have surfaced of attackers verbally harassing and physically assaulting Asian Americans, particularly those of the elderly population. 

However, mainstream media only picked up on the pressing issues on March 16th, 2021 when the lives of six Asian-American women were tragically taken in the Atlanta, Georgia spa shootings. The shooter went on a rampage in three spas in the Atlanta area, fatally injuring Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng. 

Twitter users took to the Internet to cry out against sinophobia and Asian violence to the extent that ‘#StopAsianHate’ began to dominate the trending chart.

Outrage intensified nationwide when Captain Jay Baker, the spokesperson of the investigation, claimed that the suspect was simply having “a really bad day.” Matters only worsened when one of Baker’s anti-Asian Facebook posts came to light. 

This can undeniably be traced back to former President Trump’s harmful rhetoric from the beginning of the Coronaviurs pandemic. 

When the American people first started understanding the dire threat of the pandemic, Trump addressed the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” He consequently villainized Asian Americans, promoting racist stereotypes and fostering a negative outlook on Asians living in the U.S. 

Research conducted in a study led by Yulin Hswen found that a tweet in which Trump called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” highly correlated with hashtags that incited anti-Asian sentiment.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, the founder and director of AAPI Data, a publisher of demographic data and policy research for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, affirms that the skyrocketing number of hate crimes can most definitely be attributed to Trump’s usage of the slur.

“What Trump did is that he weaponized it in a way,” Ramakrishnan told NBC Asian America. “Trump’s rhetoric helps set a certain narrative in place — and presidents have an outsized role in terms of shaping a narrative. They don’t call it a bully pulpit for nothing, and especially Trump, the way he frequently used Twitter as well as press conferences and off-the-cuff remarks to campaign rallies to frame the narrative in a particular way, it likely played a role.”

A politician can easily mold public opinion, and so when a racial term is used, it acts as a catalyst to perpetuate a stigma against that community. “When the president of a country like the U.S. encourages the population to attach a virus to a certain country or group of people, it is bound to lead to violence and ignorance,” said Elias Diab ’21. “The acts of former president Trump were by no means a professional and respectful way to deal with the situation. In fact, it could have been easily avoided by calling it the name that has been widely used throughout the world.”

Blaming Chinese people reinforces toxic stereotypes that inevitably uphold the centuries-old concept of the “yellow peril, propagating the fear of Eastern Asians and causing racial exclusion that still exists in modern-day America.

But one of the biggest issues lies in the disappointing reality that many Americans cannot separate the Chinese government and its faults from the diverse Asian American pan-ethnicity, another outcome that arose from the antagonization of Asian-Americans. Not only that, but all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are essentially grouped into one subcategory and relabeled as Chinese. 

“One of the people who died as a result of anti-Asian violence was Thai. And in Texas, we saw that Burmese family that was stabbed outside of a Sam’s Club. These are Southeast Asian people. These are very different countries from very different regions with a very different class experience in the United States. What are we seeing? That Asian Americans are interchangeable,” said Kim Tran, Ph.D., a queer Vietnamese American consultant, educator, and author focusing on the intersection of social protest, race, and gender.

Despite the recent influx of media coverage on current anti-Asian sentiment, it’s important to remain aware of the fact that sinophobia has always been present, whether it’s in the form of explicit racial violence or institutional xenophobia.

“In this conversation of anti-Asian hate, what we’re identifying as anti-Asian violence is incredibly narrow,” said Dr. Tran. “We’re talking about elders being pushed down in the street in those viral videos, or someone’s mom being attacked in front of a Chinese bakery in New York. And while that is absolutely anti-Asian violence, there are other forms of state-sanctioned violence that have been ongoing for decades if not centuries.”

Though lacking in media attention, the Biden administration scheduled the deportation of Vietnamese refugees from Texas on March 15th, 2021. Among the 33 ICE detainees were Hieu Huynh, a 49-year-old refugee who had been living in San Jose with his family since 1980, and Tien Pham, who lived in a refugee camp for years before eventually settling in San Jose, both of which had fled Vietnam to seek asylum in the U.S. On March 14th, 2021, local community organizations gathered in a rally of around 100 people to protest the flight, chanting, “Deporting Vietnamese refugees is anti-Asian violence.” For over four days, they called, emailed, and tweeted at the Biden administration in hopes of stopping the deportation, but their efforts were to no avail as the plane touched down in Vietnam that same Tuesday night.

“Though the anti-Asian hate crimes displayed on mainstream media need mass attention, we must also look at the systemic issues that Asian Americans are facing,” said Rachel Koon ’21.

Local, state, and federal governments need to invest more to protect Asian Americans, and these systems must be held accountable before justice can even be fathomable.

There have also been social issues concerning escalating tensions between Blacks and Asian Americans that certainly need to be addressed. Recently on social media, some have criticized Asians for not being vocal enough about the Black Lives Matter Movement, even going so far as to use this to justify their refusal to support Asian Americans. Contrary to what some users believe, there has absolutely been solidarity within the communities, especially when there was a resurgence of the BLM movement in the summer of 2020. 

A lot of work has to be done to tackle anti-Asian violence and the overall xenophobia in the U.S., especially in these nuanced conversations where we must understand the varied complexities in which Asian communities and Pacific Islanders are discriminated against. Still, most importantly, people of color must stand in solidarity during this period of grief, struggle, and perseverance. White supremacy and the concept of the “model minority” furthers this narrative of Black-Asian conflict, but marginalized groups are marginalized; there is no reason to contend with each other when more progress would be made through genuine alliance.

“What we see is a popular perception that Asian communities and Black communities are pitted against each other,” commented Dr. Tran. “But what do I gain from winning the Oppression-lympics? Nothing.”

Whether it is through supporting local Asian-owned businesses or remaining civically engaged in our own communities, we must all do our part to stop AAPI hate and act now.

Whether it is through supporting local Asian-owned businesses or remaining civically engaged in our own communities, we must all do our part to stop AAPI hate and act now.

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