How Words Are Endangering the Asian American Community
-By Gary Frank
6 Asian women are shot and killed at 3 spas in Atlanta.
An Asian man is shoved into a plate glass window.
The rise of anti-Asian violence has been on the increase in the last year. According to an article in the New York Times, there have been more than 110 cases of violence against Asian Americans since March 2020, including a fatal assault against an 84-year-old Thai man, and attacks against a 64-year old Vietnamese grandmother, a 91-year-old Chinese man and a 61-year-old Filipino American woman, and many more. These attacks have left the Asian American community afraid for their lives.
NBC News reports the number of incidents against Asians between March 2020 and February 2021 is closer to 3,800, a disproportionate number of those were against women. The article states that the majority are verbal harassment and shunning – actively avoiding being near Asian Americans – while physical assaults is the third type of incident. Being bullied and spat upon are also common assaults.
The fear of Asians is at the heart of these hate-attacks. Nearly half of these assaults were perpetrated by people shouting racial slurs and suggesting that Asian Americans are carriers or that they’re responsible for the Pandemic. Many of the attackers demanded they go back to China.
Although discrimination against Asians is not new – the history of abuse goes back as far as the Civil War – this recent rise in attacks can be attributed to several possible factors. The fear/hate of Asians that had been simmering for decades rose when then President Donald Trump started calling Covid-19 the Chinese Virus, or Chinese flu, or, in his usual mocking style, the Kung Flu, making it clear he blamed China for this Pandemic, and thus, in turn, suggesting all Chinese people were potential carriers. Even when told how damaging his rhetoric was, he continued using the derogatory phrase that led many of his followers to believe Chinese people, whether born in the United States or not, were to be shunned at the very least. To this day, many Republicans still refer to the Coronavirus as the Chinese Flu.
Some say holding Trump accountable is a stretch, and note another instance, the Spanish Flu, as an example of a misnamed influenza that didn’t cause violence toward Spaniards in America. Donald Trump stated that he wasn’t being racist, but wanted to accurately name the disease for where it originated. There’s a history of naming viruses for where they originated: West Nile virus came from the West Nile district of Uganda, Lyme disease was identified in Lyme, Connecticut, and, Ebola was discovered near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The difference here is that by calling Covid the Chinese Flu, you’re assigning an ethnic label that directly impacts those people.
Though there is no direct link between anti-Asian American violence and former President Donald Trump’s statements, it’s not difficult to see how his rhetoric fueled the twin fires of fear and hate. While most Americans understand that though the virus originated in Wuhan, China, it isn’t the fault of Chinese people or Asian Americans, a percentage of Americans believe Chinese – and all people of Asian descent – are to blame. It was reported that out of 2,700 racial incidents, at least 46 of the attackers invoked the name of then president, Donald Trump.
Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo, who had suggested creating an Asian Hate Crime Task Force, told Senior Reporter for CBSN, Arun Venugopal, “The perception is that Asians are seen by their attackers as soft targets. They’re not expected to fight back or report assaults.” Asians are hesitant to report hate crimes because of the language barrier, cultural differences, and fear of the police.
As of 2018, according to the 2016 American Community Survey, there are over twenty million Asians and Pacific Islanders living in the United States. That number is comprised mainly of Chinese, Asian Indians, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani, Cambodian, and Thai. As a society, we need to find solutions to the shunning, violence and general harassment of the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Stop AAPI Hate reporting center is an organization founded on March 19, 2020 by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State College.
From the website – stopaapihate.org – the mission of the center is to “track and respond to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States”. The website offers opportunities to report incidents, take action, read reports about the current anti-Asian climate, donate, and read news about what’s currently going on.
By understanding discrimination against the Asian American / Pacific Islander community during the pandemic and beyond, we can begin to have conversations about how we can come together to stop the verbal and physical assaults. Actions we can take right now: If you see something, report it, help the targeted person out of the situation, learn about the history of discrimination, advocate for awareness in your community, reach out to your elected officials to see what they’re doing to help. As a united society, it’s our responsibility to take action, to get involved by using the resources on the website and those in our community to know that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not responsible for Covid-19 and deserve to be treated fairly, without discrimination, everywhere in the United States. And also, to be aware of the words we use, as they can be used as easily to heal as to harm.