By: Haleigh C. Pannell
The Asian American, Pacific Islander, and larger Asian community is a diverse group of cultures. Unfortunately, the community is not often treated with the respect it deserves. Racism towards the Asian community has existed long before COVID-19, but violent and hateful acts have drastically increased in the past year since the pandemic began. Why? Ignorance. Hatred. Impossibly incorrect rhetoric. All amplified by a level of stress and discomfort that most of us had never experienced. Add it all together and what do you get? A breeding ground for hate.
Last March, during the early weeks of the worldwide crisis, Texas resident Bawi Cung and his two sons, 3 and 6, nearly lost their lives to a violent assault against them in their local Sam’s Club. Jose Gomez, 19, attacked Mr. Cung and his two young sons with a knife slashing Mr. Cung across the face, wounding the 3-year-old in the back, and cutting the 6-year-old’s face in a way that he now cannot move one of his eyebrows. After investigating the FBI revealed that Mr. Gomez believed Mr. Cung was Chinese and therefore, was to blame for spreading the virus. The lasting impact of this and the many other hate-fueled attacks that have occurred over the past year are terrifying. The Asian community is unjustly suffering and we must do something.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Increased Racism Towards the Asian Community
FUELING THE FLAMES
Since March of 2020, the Asian community around the world, but particularly within theUnited States, has reported a spike in hate crimes, discrimination, and harassment. The NYPD reported a 1,900% increase in anti-Asian sentiment in New York City during 2020. Between March 19th and December 31st, 2020 the organization Stop AAPI Hate said they received 2,808 reports of anti-Asian discrimination. We witnessed political leaders of all levels fuel the flames of fear and hate when they attributed the onset and spread ofCOVID-19 to China, referencing it as the”China virus” and “Kung flu”. These leaders used their platforms and stages to spread hate and lies about one, single type of person– those of Asian descent. These vitriolic, anti-China, and anti-Chinese messages have led to a vicious increase in unthinkable and harmful behavior towards the entire Asian community.
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL
When President Joe Biden took office in January, he immediately addressed the rise in racism and racist attacks towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
President Biden stated in his executive order increasing protections for the AAPI community, “The federal government must recognize that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin. Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons.”
Where Does This All Originate?
Racism against the Asian community is not only a byproduct of the dumpster fire that was 2020. It has existed in the world ever since humans decided that separation of the races was a “good” idea.
Why though? Why do those outside the Asian community allow “ching chong” to be the punchline of a joke? Why does society make Asian students feel they must excel at the top of their class or they are a failure to their culture and identity? Why do so many assume every Asian person is Chinese? Frankly, and very unfortunately, this kind of treatment has become acceptable and tolerated by society.
Failure to hold people accountable for bad actions allows them, including and especially our youth, to continue behavior such as making fun of the Asian boy in your class who struggles with math. This has been marked a-okay in their book! But it is not a-okay, it’s not even okay.
Each Asian culture has its own complexities and intricacies that warrant others to pay close attention to fully understand the diversity that exists in a single culture. They are beautiful and unique and just because they share a continent and share some cross-cultural similarities, does not make them all the same.
NOT ALL THE SAME…
Undoubtedly, you have heard someone say that all Asians look the same or are the same. While this is far from the truth, it continues to be shared as if it is. Not every Asian person is from the same culture. Even the ones that are do not have the same lives and experiences. There are 48 countries in the continent of Asia. Forty- Eight. So no, not every Asian person you see is Chinese or Japanese.
Asian people can also identify with their region, country, or continent. For instance, someone who is Chinese can also identify as East Asian, and/or Asian. Every Chinese person is East Asian and Asian, but not every East Asian or every Asian is Chinese.
White passing means that a person who is not white culturally has a skin tone fair enough or has features that could allow them “pass” for a white person. East Asians tend to be the closest to having white-passing traits. Why does this matter? This can affect those who cannot pass for white because they are more likely to experience racism. On the other side, Asian people who can pass for white can experience a different kind of racism such as being bullied for not being “Asian enough” or “white enough”.
THE MODEL MINORITY MYTH
The “Model Minority Myth” credits the success of Asian people to a strong family structure and a better work ethic than other minorities. The myth highlights and draws a distinction between Asian people and those In the Black community, attributing many of the struggles Black people face to weak family structures and a worse work ethic than other minorities – an opposite Model Minority Myth both myths nonetheless.
Another pillar of this myth is that all Asian families are socioeconomically well-off. It discredits the experience of members of the Asian community that had or have financial difficulties, are refugees, or are anything less than the upper class.
The myth erases the struggles of the Asian community and simultaneously promotes anti-Blackness.
Effects the Myth has had on the Asian Community
Overall, the myth has fueled tolerance for racism against Asians, particularly non-Eastern Asians. Because of the myth, there has been a divide between East Asians and Southeast, South, and Central Asians. Many non- East Asians feel that East Asians have had an easier time dealing with racism than they have. Similarly, some East Asians feel that the divide is unfairly created by non-East Asians.
How has the Myth Affected the Relationship of Asians to Other People of Color?
The divide has not only been felt internally to the Asian community but has also caused a separation between Asians and other people of color. The myth fans the flame of Anti-Blackness particularly in the United States. As a result, some Black people feel resentment towards Asians because they are pitted as opposites according to the myth.
So Why is it Still Happening?
Is it because there is truth to the myth? No. Evidence? None. Fairness? Not a chance. So, if there’s no truth, no evidence, and no fairness… why is anyone perpetuating this belief?
Mainly because it has been taught and passed down through generations and reinforced by stereotypes broadly put on display in media.
Our Opportunity to Ignite Change, Not Fire, Is Now.
On January 28th, 2021 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was shoved to the ground while taking his morning walk in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, two days later, Mr. Ratanapakdee succumbed to his injuries from the assault in the hospital. Since January of this year, there have been over 20 reported violent attacks and robberies where the victims were Asian. This month eight women, six of them of Asian descent, were senselessly murdered by 21-year-old Robert Long in Atlanta, Georgia. Not only is this attack an act of white supremacy, but also of male supremacy and it needs to stop. The Asian community is not to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic. The violence against the Asian community has been perpetrated due to fake news, false accusations, and unfounded and baseless information. Sadly, as we’ve seen before in history, some people feel the need for a scapegoat and that unfair burden has most recently fallen on the Asian community.
So, reader, what are you going to do about it? While the attacks on the Asian community might not be your fault, they are your responsibility. It is the responsibility of everyone to band together and help stop this violence. If you have social media, share the hashtag #STOPAAPIHATE. And if you or someone you know witnesses a hate crime against a member of the Asian community please report it to the NAPABA by emailing email@example.com or by completing their hate crime intake form. The only way to fight this is together.
Sources / Research
Abdollah, Tami, and Trevor Hughes. “Hate Crimes against Asian Americans Are on the Rise. Here’s What Activists, Lawmakers and Police Are Doing to Stop the Violence.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 4 Mar. 2021, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/02/27/asian-hate-crimes- attacks-fueled-covid-19-racism-threaten-asians/4566376001/.
Chow, Kat. “’Model Minority Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks.” NPR, NPR, 19 Apr. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth- again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks.
Lang, Cady. “Asian American Attacks: What’s Behind the Rise in Violence?” Time, Time, 18 Feb. 2021, time.com/5938482/asian-american-attacks/.
Richard Fausset, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, and Marie Fazio. “8 Dead in Atlanta Spa Shootings, With Fears of Anti-Asian Bias.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Mar. 2021, www.nytimes.com/live/2021/03/17/us/shooting-atlanta- acworth.
Tang, Terry. “Victims of Anti-Asian Attacks Reflect a Year into Pandemic.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 2 Mar. 2021, www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/victims- of-anti-asian-attacks-reflect-a-year-into-pandemic.
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