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AAPI Racism is not New: A History of Hate

On Tuesday, March 16th, a series of shootings took place at spas in Atlanta, Georgia. There were eight people killed, including six Asian women, and one wounded. The suspect currently faces multiple counts of murder and a charge of aggravated assault.

With a near 150% rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans throughout 2020, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, many suspect that the shootings were racially motivated. However, the suspect is yet to face any hate crime charges.

Though there has been an increase in recent violent attacks against Asian Americans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these racially targeted assaults are not new occurrences. Asian Americans have faced hate crimes, and even the wrath of the federal government, for decades. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was passed on May 6th of 1882. This act regulated Chinese immigration to the point where only a few non-laborers were allowed to enter the United States. 

Another example of discrimination against Asians was the use of Japanese internment camps during World War II, which was considered one of the largest civil rights violations in all of American history. 

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, all Japanese individuals living on the West Coast were sent to “relocation centers.” Such centers were located in desolate areas, with four to five families sharing limited resources. These internment camps were used until the end of World War II, with President Ronald Reagan later acknowledging the injustice that had transpired. However, that would not reassure the many people who had seen and feared these horrific conditions.

A common thread linking acts of racism and xenophobia, particularly throughout American history, is the inclination of some to blame people of color for larger issues within their society. This inclination can have harsh consequences for the racial groups facing blame, including the deaths of people such as Vincent Chin in 1982. His killers mistook him as Japanese and attributed their economic misfortune to his existence. At the trial for Chin’s murder, the murderers were charged with manslaughter, receiving a $3,000 fine and no prison time. 

Similar incidents have also taken place in more recent history. In 2006, four Asian-American men were attacked by two white men in Douglastown, Queens. The two men shouted racial slurs and beat two of their victims. They were later charged with assault and hate crimes. In the reporting of this crime, some locals even acknowledged the existence of racial tensions between white residents and Chinese and Korean residents. In 2014, a 24-year-old Japanese student named Ryo Oyamada was run over and killed by a New York Police Department cruiser. However, despite video footage suggesting that the NYPD was at fault for the death, a court ruled in favor of the police department and called the incident “unavoidable.”

As COVID-19 spread throughout the world, these attacks also spread. The virus’s origin in Wuhan, China, combined with the continual use of anti-Asian rhetoric, brought on a drastic increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Kyle Lee, a senior at Mira Loma High School, said that “people think it’s fine [to hate on] the Chinese because they created [the coronavirus pandemic].” These attacks have been occurring more frequently in recent months, though many have been depicting Asians as the source of the virus since early 2020. Mira Loma High School sophomore Henderson Vo said that he “fully expected to see [more Asian hate], even now, a year later.” 

Global leaders, such as former President Donald J. Trump, also utilized this type of anti-Asian language. At times, Trump would refer to COVID-19 as the “kung flu” or the “China virus.” In one photograph taken by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford, the former president’s notes were shown to have “Corona” crossed out and replaced with “Chinese.”

These actions are reflected in the aforementioned increase in attacks against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic, with anti-Asian sentiments also growing worldwide. Sophia Lane, a sophomore at Mira Loma High School, believes that “people don’t make a big deal of [Asian hate crimes] like other issues…because of the model minority myth and the stereotype about [Asian Americans] not really speaking up about a lot of things.” Lane also described that she worries for her mother, who leaves home to go grocery shopping, saying that “it feels awful.”

The effects of this increase have been especially visible in major cities like New York City, where hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by 1,900 percent in 2020. However, different parts of California have also been affected, including San Francisco and Oakland’s Chinatowns.

On June 25th, 2020, TIME published an article featuring ten Asian Americans who discussed their experiences with xenophobia due to COVID-19. Their experiences ranged from getting coughed and spat on at train stations to getting body-slammed while walking a dog. Many of the recent victims have been people who are seen as more vulnerable, including women and the elderly. Just a few weeks ago, a 75-year-old Chinese woman named Xiao Zhen Xie was punched while walking down the street in San Francisco. She was left traumatized and in pain due to her injuries. 

Vo explains that this pattern of hate against Asian Americans is “the same thing over and over again. It’s always ‘go back to your country,’ it’s always the pulling back of the eyes, it’s always been violence in the streets, being afraid to go out…. Although it’s way more severe this past year, it’s the same stuff that’s been happening for decades.”

These are just a few examples of the many incidents that have been reported. Many people are now using hashtags, such as #StopAsianHate or #ProtectAsianLives, to spread awareness about the increase in violence towards Asian Americans. Lee expressed that the use of social media can play an important role in helping the Asian community, and especially the elders within it who are victims of these hate crimes.

Here are some ways people can support Asian Americans and fight xenophobia today: 

One of the quickest ways is to donate. You can either donate directly to a victim and their family, or to an Asian organization. If that is not a possibility, volunteer with groups and organizations that are helping the Asian community and report any hate incidents that you see.

“Activism and education are…the best way to overcome tensions,” Vo concluded.

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