The United States has a history of racial discrimination, consistently directed towards Asian Americans, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese Americans' internment during World War II. A racist culture produced slurs and verbal harassment (“yellow peril,” “China virus,” “Kung Flu,” and “coolies”), bullying, racial stereotyping, immigration bans, racial discrimination and xenophobic treatment living in a white supremacy culture. While we may associate these behaviors with past history, negative actions have worsened with the pandemic. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) called for greater awareness of racism against Asian Americans. He stated, “This sort of bias is latent throughout American society, and it gets worse or less worse depending on the moment.”
Stop AAPI Hate documented 2,808 verbal and physical assaults between March-December 2020. Most of the attacks were against the elderly in the states of California and New York (1,900% increase). San Francisco reported that nine hate crimes targeted Asian Americans in 2020, up from six (2019) and four in 2018; the New York Police Department reported at least 28 hate crimes in 2020, compared with three in 2019. San Francisco’s Chinatown community is on edge from attacks and urges residents to report crimes to police. Neighborhood patrols have been created in Oakland, Los Angeles and New York City to respond to a wave of racist violence and harassment since the onset of COVID-19. These numbers belie the dangerous climate Asian Americans are facing. Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have spiked by 150% in major US cities in 2020. Majority of incidents, over 90% in New York City, have gone unreported.
Attacks include a 52-year-old woman in Flushing, Queens and a mother punched in the face on a subway platform. In NYC, an 89-year-old woman was slapped in the face and her shirt set on fire. A Brooklyn woman was doused with chemicals. Noel Quintana’s face was slashed, requiring over 100 stitches. In California, a Los Angeles man was beaten with his own cane at a bus stop. Vicha Ratanapakdee (84 years), died after being pushed to the ground violently. His daughter, Amy, described it as a hate crime and shared that her children had been called racial epithets over the past year.
What can we do?
- Be an ally in the fight against Asian American racism.
- When we discuss racial injustice, include issues confronting Asian Americans.
- Advocate for law enforcement to create task forces and liaisons to address concerns emanating from the Asian American community. Andrew Yang suggested funding for an NYC Asian-American Hate Crime Task Force.
- Historically there have been incidents of tension between African Americans and Asian Americans and the need for increased engagement between these two marginalized communities. Challenge attempts to generate conflict between them.
- Challenge Asian American stereotypes that downplay the issues confronting that community. Particularly the “model minority” myth that downplays the important problems the community faces. Asians are often touted as possessing greater intelligence and success, especially compared to other racial-ethnic communities, while downplaying important problems the community faces.
- Write letters of outrage to politicians who make anti-Asian statements or express prejudicial sentiments. Write op-eds and letters to the editor in local papers.
- When an incident occurs in your community, publicly advocate for prosecutors to charge hate crimes in violent attacks against Asian Americans.
- Attend rallies and protests in support of the Asian community. Advocate for investment in education and community resources to get at the root causes of Anti-Asian xenophobia in the ongoing conversation on race.
Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins
Associate Director of Advocacy, Presbyterian Church (USA)
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