Asian hate crimes are on the rise in the United States. And Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are starting to speak out in the latest fight for justice and to end institutional racism.
Despite creating a heightened sense of awareness of systematic racism in the United States (and all over the world) through the #BlackLivesMatter movement, following the death of George Floyd, the focus of American racism appears to be making a definitive shift towards anti-Asian sentiment. There has been a dramatic increase in Asian hate crimes since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Statistics from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism reflect an alarming rise in Asian hate crimes (a surge of 149%), in spite of a 7% drop in hate crimes towards all marginalised groups. It isn’t anything new either, and reflects a long history of oppression and discrimination against AAPI ethnic groups.
The history of Asian hate crimes in America
Anti-Asian sentiment and Asian hate crimes are nothing new in the United States and dates back to the early 1800s, where white supremacist group, Order of Caucasians, murdered four Chinese men – tying them up and dousing them with kerosene to burn them to death in Chico, California.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigrants from entering the country; and the imprisonment of about 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II continues to tarnish the incredible legacy left behind by one of America’s greatest ever presidents, and a progressive icon, Franklin Roosevelt. Destroying communities across California, Washington and Oregon, the American government forced business owners to shutter their doors and residents to give up their homes, sending “relocation centers” in rural areas of Colorado and Wyoming, among others.
More recently, in 1982, Chinese American autoworker Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by two white autoworkers who were alleged to have been motivated by a negative sentiment towards competition from Japanese automakers. He was brutally beat to death with a baseball bat. This prompted the creation of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which now has chapters nationally. For various reasons, which we will address later, however, many Asian hate crimes go unreported and statistics are often don’t represent the reality of the marginalisation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The exponential rise of Asian hate crimes during the Covid-19 pandemic
As reported by Fox News, Asian hate crimes have skyrocketed by 36% in March, compared to the same timeframe last year, while shootings also rose by 77%, according to statistics from the NYPD. Furthermore, Reports of Asian hate crimes have risen by 150% in major US cities last year, according to CBS.
There have been several gruesome incidents that have been reported throughout the media, such as the incident in New York where police released footage of a man approaching a 65-year-old Filipina woman on the sidewalk and kicking her in the stomach, knocking her to the ground. The man then kicks the woman in the face multiple times while making “anti-Asian statements toward her” before casually walking away, police said. Furthermore, at a 7-Eleven in Manhattan, a worker was assaulted by a man shouting “You Chinese motherf—er,” according to New York Post.
There are countless other examples of brutality towards the AAPI community and failing to address this would be a moral failure tantamount to that of police brutality towards Black Americans – it urgently needs to be addressed. However, there has been a massive movement, #StopAsianHate, which has brought these issues to light and recently galvanised members of the AAPI community to join a mass protest in Time Square against the rise in Asian hate crimes.
What is the crux of the issue?
As so much that’s wrong with America today does, this started with former President Donald Trump. Given the way that the Covid-19 pandemic has utterly devastated the United States, Trump’s anti-China rhetoric, calling it the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu”, added fuel to the fire of fear spreading throughout the country due to the origins of Covid-19. This fear has resulted in violence and, even more pertinently, hate speech.
The vast majority of the hate crimes go unreported, however, due to the fact that racial slurs don’t qualify as hate speech, which is “awful but lawful”, as stated by Kevin Gallier, who oversees the hate crimes unit in Houston, Texas.
“The outrage, the decrying of these recent incidents, is because of centuries of invisibility, of feeling like the history of anti-Asian racism is not known, that what happens to our community is minimized, is overlooked,” says Cynthia Choi, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.
Roughly 90% of the incidents don’t rise to the level of criminally prosecutable hate crimes.
Beyond this, the AAPI community is diverse and is not one giant monolith. It is made up largely of Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Pacific Islanders and so on… distinct groups with different cultures and languages that simply cannot be treated as a single group of people.
Policy directives for the Filipino community will not be applicable to members of the Korean community, for example. And hate crimes against the Asian community have been carried out by stereotypes and applying a set of characteristics to one large group of people. For example, a stereotype that Asians always carry cash has led to Asian people being targeted for muggings and robberies.
How should the US government be addressing this?
In January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order condemning the attacks. The order calls for better data collection about hateful incidents, and mandates federal agencies to fight “racism, xenophobia, and intolerance” directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI.
Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) said there should be “tangible steps” taken at “every level of government” to curb the wave of violence. In a statement, Kim said the Biden administration should “re-establish the White House Initiative on AAPI to create a designated portal for sustained engagement and relationship building” with the Asian community across the country. Stop AAPI Hate co-founder, Manjusha Kulkarni believes more should be done to enhance public education and community support programs for victims in order to combat hate incidents, saying that “this moment calls for a similar [law enforcement] infrastructure on the civil rights side.”
Some programs, like L.A. vs. Hate, that provide a place to report hate incidents without affiliation with law enforcement and offer to connect victims to resources. Meanwhile, Kulkarni believes that breaking down anti-Asian sentiment needs to start with the education system.
“Looking forward, we need to also think about what the impact is going to be on schoolchildren,” Kulkarni said. “10% of the incidents reported to us involved youth. I know parents are very much concerned about what that looks like for their children.
An epidemic of hatred
It goes without saying that racism, in all forms, is disgusting and the systems that perpetuate it need to be dismantled. Racism is real in the United States. The #BlackLivesMatter movement also needs to step up and raise their now-very powerful voices. Why aren’t there protests all over the world condemning this?