Solidarity With Our Asian Friends
Those of us who are not Asian have to do all that we can to stop anti-Asian hatred
Times of crisis can sometimes reveal the worst in us. Resentment and prejudice that once bubbled under the surface is laid bare for all to see. The coronavirus pandemic has sadly seen the resurgence of anti-Asian hatred across the United States. Since the virus came out of China, people have allowed their fears of the virus to grow into an irrational phobia of Asian-Americans. America has long had a history of anti-Asian racism, from the Page Act of 1875 to the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882 to Japanese-American internment during World War II to the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. It is a sordid history of injustice from which we have yet to fully move past.
The shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, which slew eight people, many of them Asian women, were but the climax of a growing trend towards anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. While the investigation into the shooter’s motives is still ongoing, it has been reported by the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, that he shouted, “I’m going to kill all the Asians!” The shooter also claimed that he had a “sex addiction” and wanted to eliminate “temptation.” The fact that he targeted Asian spas meant, at the very least, that he probably had some sort of extreme racial fetish for Asian women.
It’s a very familiar pattern. Like the brazen murder of the elderly Thai man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, that occurred earlier this year in San Francisco. Or the attack on Noel Quintana, who was slashed across the face in a Manhattan subway. While not every attack on an Asian-American may constitute a hate crime, there has been an undisputed rise in this kind of racial terror. The NYPD found that anti-Asian hate crimes had risen 1,900% in New York City, while the reporting database, Stop AAPI Hate, received 2,808 reports of anti-Asian hate in 2020. There has also been an misogynistic aspect to this violence, with Kimmy Yam noting that 68% of the incidents reported by Stop AAPI Hate were committed against Asian women. Sociology professor Nancy Wang Yuen has suggested that this disproportionate level of violence is due to stereotypes of Asian women as docile or hypersexualized.
We must also hold our leaders to account for stoking the fires of hate. There’s a reason why President Barack Obama didn’t go around saying “radical Islam” while terror attacks from ISIS ravaged the globe. Some critics, such as Senator Ted Cruz, called him a terrorist apologist for his refusal to use the phrase, but Obama was well aware of the underlying ideology which seduced people into ISIS. He even started a noble, though flawed, program to counter violent extremism. Obama knew, however, that if he, with the presidential megaphone, started carelessly saying “radical Islam”, he could easily be misinterpreted to mean Islam in general, and incite anti-Muslim bigotry. As he explained to Americans at the time, “what I have been careful about when I describe these issues is to make sure that we do not lump these murderers into the billion Muslims that exist around the world.”
The same could not be said for President Donald Trump, who repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus” and “kung flu”, which in turn inspired a spike of anti-Asian hashtags on Twitter. Some might defend Trump’s rhetoric as merely holding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accountable for its handling of the virus. Except that when many Americans hear those terms, they tend to conflate anyone of Asian descent with the CCP’s failures. It should be of no surprise, then, that when an Asian restaurant in San Antonio was vandalized, the graffiti included such phrases as “commie” and “kung flu.” Trump is not responsible for all of the anti-Asian hate that followed the coronavirus outbreak, as I said before, it’s a part of our history, but his rhetoric certainly didn’t help.
On the other hand, there are those, such as author Viet Thanh Ngyuen and Asian studies professor Janelle Wong, who want to conflate criticism of China, particularly the recognition that it is a global threat to human rights, with domestic sinophobia. Their ludicrous Washington Post op-ed, which also makes simplistic “both sides” equivalencies between the United States and China, argues that due to our history of “Yellow Peril” hysteria, Asian-Americans will inevitably be attacked whenever China is. It is certainly true that there are criticisms of China which are misinformed and feed paranoia, such as the simplistic reporting on its social credit score system, but this doesn’t mean that we should shrink from denouncing the CCP’s own racist violence against the Tibetans and the Uyghurs. Consider also that anti-Semitic hate crimes are rising in the United States, and yet it would be similarly false to suggest that criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians causes antisemitism. We do recognize, however, that it is wrong to harass Jews about Israel’s actions and that there are anti-Semitic ways of criticizing Israel. It is with similar care and nuance that Americans must talk about China.
I’ve felt rather helpless as I’ve watched Americans succumb to fear and attack their fellow citizens. To grieve attack after predictable attack. Maybe the first place to start is with ourselves. If you see something, say something. Make friends with Asian-Americans, yes, but don’t treat them like foreigners, with extensive knowledge of Japanese or Korean culture. Most importantly, listen to Asian-Americans as they tell their stories. Think about the fears that they also have about being attacked, denigrated, or fetishized, for simply being who they are. We should all consider the words of Bruce Lee, no stranger to racism, who once said, “If every man would help his neighbor then every man would not be without help.”
Delania Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Sun Cha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue.
May they rest in peace.