NJ Spark
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NJ Spark

What the recent hate crimes against Asian Americans reveals about Asian stereotypes

Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

If you Google search “Asian attack”, you will find a number of articles and news reports reporting on a recent surge of hate attacks on Asian Americans in the US.

Except, the attacks have not been all that recent. Articles can be found on Asian Americans being the victims of various hate crimes all the way back since June last year, as reported in this New York Times article.

An increasingly obvious trend during the pandemic in the US has been the drastic rise of hate crimes directed at Asian American all across the country. The Stop AAPI Hate national coalition, which was founded to address anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, has reported 2,598 cases of anti-Asian discrimination between March 19th and August 5th last year from across the nation. Yet, nearly three months into 2021, elderly Asian Americans in the Bay Area are being targeted and physically attacked. Stop AAPI Hate has since updated their numbers to include another 200 or so reports as of February 9th, 2021.

What is shocking about most of these stories however is that the majority of the coverage on these attacks has occurred through videos of the attacks going viral. Media news outlets have given major coverage for a number of social injustices that have occurred during the pandemic, so the question that must be asked is why Asian Americans are not getting similar treatment in terms of coverage?

The fact that attacks on Asian Americans have gone more or less unabated throughout the pandemic since the beginning seems to indicate not only the lack of coverage, but also how little is being down to follow up and prevent these attacks from happening, at least in the formal channels. In Chinatown, NYC and Oakland, California, citizen watch patrols have been formed to keep Asian communities and businesses safer in light of the recent attacks.

All of these events have led me to personally think about the way the Asian American community addresses racism, in comparison to other groups. I am a Korean-American, born and raised in the States. Growing up I never really felt like I experienced major discrimination for my race. I also never really heard much about topics of racism in the context of social justice amongst the Asian community until I got much older. For a majority of my life, I had not given much thought to civil rights or social justice, at least in relation to my own race.

Racism, while obviously being the reality of many Asian Americans growing up, was not, and I still believe is not, a widely discussed topic in Asian circles unless it directly impacts them.

There are exceptions of course, like Asian American celebrities, activists and politicians, as well as the neighborhood watch mentioned before. But the level of activism and fight for civil rights in the youth of the Asian community is a far cry from the level of activism and awareness of social justice found in African American communities.

The biggest sign of that difference is the goals of these movements. Up into recently, Asian-Americans have mostly fought for survival. But survival is not equality. What that ends up looking like is trying to protect against the most heinous violations of our being, whether that be physical or verbal attacks. We try and protect ourselves from violence and retaliation, but we are not shedding light on the reasons why we are targets of violence and retaliation in the first place. Instead of pulling the weed out by the root, we simply cut it, only for it to eventually grow back.

What seems to be frustrating to me as an Asian American today is knowing that we are still discriminated against despite being told we are a model minority. That we have stereotypes about Asians portraying us as the successful minority and as a minority that is dirty and spreading a pandemic is baffling to me.

What worries me the most about these attacks is the fear that this is a result of a culture of complacency. The length at which these hate crimes have gone on through the pandemic, despite community efforts, has made me wonder if Asian American culture has relied too much on the model minority stereotype as a sign of equality. It might be possible that Asian Americans assume that our model minority stereotype makes us unlike other minorities in a potentially positive way, leaving us open to also receive the negative stereotypes as well. But stereotypes of any kind should not be embraced as a sign of success but are rather a sign of subjugation.

If media outlets hold similar stereotypes, it could result in the way we see Asian Americans getting a kind of backseat row in terms of coverage. Stereotypes might serve us well, but they can easily and swiftly be turned against us, as is clear in recent events.

Near the beginning of the pandemic, my mom was able to get a box of face masks for our family. We had more than we needed as a family, so my mom later decided to donate some to a church in which my brother is a youth pastor. Something that bothers me still is that before my mom sent them to the church, she made sure to omit on the packaging that it was made in China. When I asked her why she did this, she told me that she did not want anyone to feel scared about using them. The church is predominantly Korean.

While mistreatment of Asian Americans is getting coverage and Asian communities are responding, it is important not to forget the internal as well as external factors which influence how the Asian American community maybe treated. Fighting hate and stereotypes is as much an external battle as well as an internal one, whether that is as an individual, or as a culture.

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