The shootings on March 16, 2021, when a white gunman killed eight people – including six Asian women – in massage parlors in Atlanta have shaken the community and sparked a nationwide reckoning about a long history of racism and hate towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, in the United States. The killings come after a year of rise in violence and xenophobia toward the AAPI community sparked by the beginning of the pandemic last spring. Shortly after COVID-19 cases began to appear in the U.S., Asian American community groups warned of an uptick in hate and racist language targeting them – many being tied to the virus’ origins in China. Former President Donald Trump and other elected officials repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus” or the “Kung flu,” blaming the country for the pandemic. The consequences of the former president’s comments spread like wildfire.
STOP AAPI Hate, a center that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against AAPI in the U.S., received over 2,808 reports of anti-Asian hate across the country between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020. Race was cited as the primary reason for discrimination in over 90% of the incidents reported. Physical assaults made up 8.7% of the reports. These figures are compared to about 100 similar incidents recorded in previous years, Cynthia Choi, co-founder of STOP AAPI Hate told USA Today.
“These recent incidents are stark reminders that urgent action must be taken to protect our AAPI community from hate, discrimination, and violence,” STOP AAPI Hate co-founders, Manjusha Kulkarni, Cynthia Choi, and Russell Jeung, said in a statement. “It is up to all of us — businesses, the government, and community partners — to come together and immediately support victims and families affected by these incidents, and work together to create long-lasting solutions that empower our communities with resources, support, and education.”
View this post on Instagram
Shortly after taking office in January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to condemn and combat racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPI in the U.S. “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,” Biden wrote in the memorandum. “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.” However, discrimination against the Asian community in the U.S. existed long before COVID-19.
The hate crimes faced by Asian Americans go back as far as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigrants from entering the country. This was the first immigration law that excluded an entire ethnic group. The act suspended Chinese immigration for 10 years and declared Chinese immigrants ineligible for naturalization. Over the next decades, biased and discriminatory public health and immigration policies have continued to target the Asian community, according to experts who study the history of race in the U.S. According to them, racism and xenophobia from the 19th and 20th centuries are coming back.
“Historically, going even further, it’s always been a problem that the Asian-American community has had to deal with,” John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC
Today calls for awareness to issues of anti-Asian racism and action, as well as solidarity and support for the AAPI community, are being made nationwide. So what can one do to help stop AAPI hate? Many non-profit organizations are currently offering free resources online. The Asian Americans Advancing Justice, or AAAJ, is a national affiliation of five leading organizations advocating for Asian Americans’ rights. On their website, the organization compiled fact sheets, introduction to federal and state hate crime laws, hotlines accessible in numerous languages, race-based harassment training, and other tools for the AAPI community. The AAAJ also compiled an AAPI Anti-Hate Community Resources Google Document, which gathers resources available from all over the country. STOP AAPI Hate offers safety tips in numerous languages as well as ways to support the Georgia families and communities.
View this post on Instagram
The AAAJ also offers resources for other Americans to support the Asian community with bystander training and guides on how to teach tolerance, among others. This reiterates the importance of inter-community dialogues and solidarity to combat anti-Asian hate.
Learning about the historical precedents that led to the ongoing violence and discrimination against the AAPI community is a first step to understand the experience of Asian Americans in the U.S. today. Calls are also growing to support and celebrate Asian art during these times with numerous reading lists available online. Although reading lists alone won’t be sufficient enough to dismantle the deeply rooted prejudice against AAPI in the U.S., deliberate efforts to recognize the stereotypes perpetuated by the media and to understand the experience of the 20 million Asian Americans living in this country is a first step to help bridge the divide within our communities.