A gunman in Atlanta, Georgia has been charged with murdering eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, at massage parlors on Wednesday. This sparked a conversation about the rise in anti-Asian hate in the United States and where it stems from.
At the start of the COVID pandemic in March, the FBI warned the country about a potential rise in hate crimes against Asain-Americans. Following this, in August, the UN released a report stating that “Racially motivated violence and other incidents against Asian-Americans have reached an alarming level across the United States since the outbreak of COVID-19”. While it is hard to specify exact numbers for racially motivated instances, Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group that tracks discrimination against AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), said that they received more than 2,800 reports.
Each report is as heartbreaking as the next: an elderly Thai immigrant dying after being shoved violently onto the ground, a Chinese woman being slapped and set on fire, a Filipino American’s face being slashed open with a box cutter. This latest shooting was another in a string of attacks faced by the Asian community. They have been coughed on, spat on, harassed, and attacked.
A 2020 study of hate crimes reported a 150% increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes since March. However, the United States’ history of anti-Asian sentiment predates the pandemic.
The racist trope of “Asians coming to steal American jobs” began in the 1850s when Chinese immigrants began to work in mines and railroad construction and taking the dangerous, low-paying jobs others wouldn’t do. In 1854, a ruling made by the California Supreme Court in the People v Hall case stated that Asian people were not allowed to testify against a white person. This set a dangerous precedent that started a series of massacres and lynchings.
It was the first in an array of Acts passed by the government that excluded Asian-Americans from the community. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, which legalized a 10-year ban on labor immigration, and persisted in different forms until 1943. This act was passed under the assumption that Chinese immigrants were the cause of diseases like leprosy, malaria, and smallpox.
Asian communities have felt like systematic targets during times of crisis. Japanese Americans were rounded up into internment camps during World War II, and South Asians who “looked Muslim” were swept up during the wave of Islamophobia after the 9/11 attacks. This history manufactured the stereotypes that are still active today, leading up to the hate and racism the Asian-American community faces.
Additionally, it is important to address the place that Asian-Americans hold in the racial hierarchy in the United States. They are not considered white, but also do not face the level of injustice as Black Americans have. Asians are seen as the “model minority”, which is not only used as a racial wedge between different minorities, but it also ignores the fact that Asian immigrants were selectively recruited on the basis of education. Additionally, it ignores the diversity of Asian American cultures, and makes the US seem like a welcoming place for Asians.
Today, Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic minority in the US. There are now over 20 million people that have roots from more than 20 different Asian countries. With this rise, the issues and difficulties faced by this community need to be addressed from not just a legal perspective, but a cultural one too.