The pandemic, combined with Trump’s presidency, has led to an increase in xenophobic mentalities and a dreadful surge of hate crimes; late last year, law enforcement noticed an alarming spike in racially motivated crimes against Asians and Asian Americans.
This trend has continued into the new year, as apparent by the aggravated anti-Asian sentiments. These attacks come in various forms, including verbal harassment, physical assaults, and many more horrid acts. Unfortunately, discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans in the United States isn’t a new phenomenon.
History of Anti-Asian Sentiments in the United States
Over the past century and a half, the United States has explicitly created policies that discriminate against minority groups, particularly Asians and Asian Americans. In the 1880s, “yellow peril,” a fear of an Asian invasion from the East, paved the way for the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited immigrants and residents from becoming U.S. citizens.
After decades of anti-immigrant movements and discriminatory practices, it wasn’t until 1965, that race-specific barriers were removed with the passage of the Immigration Act. However, despite the change in policy, anti-Asian sentiments continued to prevail.
In the 1980s, incited by a race-motivated murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin, Asian communities in America began fighting for their rights. Protests were fueled by Chin’s assailants who were found guilty of manslaughter yet received no prison time. They took to the streets in protest and outrage, against decades of oppression and discrimination.
This instance marked a turning point for anti-Asian racism where various pan-Asian groups came together in solidarity and explicitly expressed their indignation, a drastic contrast from their typically reserved demeanours. But despite their efforts, anti-Asian attacks continued throughout the country, often in less violent ways, but equally, if not more, hurtful to the Asian population. Anti-asian sentiments took the forms of discrimination in the workplace, in the media, and largely in daily interactions.
Additionally, the attack on 9/11 further exacerbated anti-Asian sentiments, re-inciting racially motivated attacks. Asian xenophobia reached a new high; individuals were violently attacked on the streets, and discriminatory and stereotypical mentalities were reinforced for many.
Asians and the Model Minority Myth
Even after being seemingly accepted into American society, Asians and Asian Americans were still targeted and stereotyped as a minority. The model minority myth, created to pit Asians against other minority groups by depicting them as the most ‘successful’ group among the rest, produced a myriad of other obstacles they had to face throughout their daily lives.
Just recently, with the Black Lives Matter Movement, inter-minority racial tensions resurfaced as a reminder of past conflict between the Asian and Black communities. For decades, white dominating forces have depicted Asians and Asian Americans as the most ‘successful’ of minority groups, giving them a semblance of power and success while driving a wedge between them and other minority groups. This rift was especially prevalent during the 1992 Los Angeles riots where Korean-Americans were victimised under a series of looting, arson, and other violent crimes, predominantly by the Black community.
However, in the Black Lives Matter Movement last year, we saw the Asian and Black communities come together in solidarity, where the hashtag #AsiansforBlackLives trended online. Many have begun to recognise how the dominating white forces have used stories of Asian success as propaganda to drive a wedge between minority groups, which has instead kept the white population in power.
In addition to pitting Asians and Asian Americans against other minority groups, the Asian population also faces many obstacles in their daily lives. For instance, the term “bamboo ceiling” is used to describe the barriers Asians and Asian Americans encounter in the United States when attempting to ascend the corporate ladder.
Whether it is due to a fear of being replaced or purely having discriminatory intent, corporate leaders have made it extra difficult for Asians and Asian Americans to obtain high-level positions within companies. Research has also found that South Asians are more likely to attain leadership positions compared to East Asians, suggesting a further bias within the different sub-groups of the Asian population.
Portraying Asians and Asian Americans as the most ‘intelligent’ and ‘successful’ among minority groups not only created a chasm in between the groups, but also made it especially difficult for Asians and Asian Americans to find allies against the dominating forces that oppress them.
As anti-Asian sentiments have resurfaced and been exacerbated due to the coronavirus, it’s more crucial than ever to come together against the larger force that oppresses minority groups. From the xenophobic language of the former president himself to various instances of verbal and physical attacks on individuals and businesses, many people have turned Asians into a scapegoat for the pandemic.
This is not a new trend, but one that has caused terrible grief and anxiety during an already distressing time. This recent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States is a painful reminder of a long-standing history of various discriminatory practices, including targeting and scapegoating.
#StopAsianHate: Support and Solutions
Many celebrities and large portions of the public have expressed support towards the Asian and Asian American community in the United States. People have demonstrated their efforts and solidarity through raising awareness about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, explicitly criticizing and calling out xenophobic behavior, and sharing resources on how to help local businesses and individuals who are particularly vulnerable to attacks.
Many companies have also stepped forward in supporting the Asian and Asian American community, donating money and resources toward organizations and standing in solidarity against xenophobic actions.
To change the systemic racism and stereotypes embedded in people’s minds over a long period of time cannot be achieved overnight, but there are many steps we can take toward eradicating xenophobic mentalities within individuals and society as a whole.
First, we should strive to create safer public spaces. As the elderly are most vulnerable to violent attacks, these public spaces should allow them to feel safe and supported in their own neighbourhoods. Many community organisations have formed “foot patrols” to aid elderly residents on outings, while also advocating for a greater police presence in areas at risk of attacks.
Education is the most crucial long-term strategy against systemic racism. People need to understand the longstanding history of discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans in the United States and strive to not have history repeat itself. This could be reinforced by instructional programs, stricter policies, and help from law enforcement agencies.
As for individuals, a change in mentality is up to oneself to initiate and sustain. We must reject historical stereotypes, question media portrayals and speculations, challenge systemic practices and policies, and never fall victim to prejudicial ideas simply in search of a scapegoat.
Find resources to support Asian and Asian American communities below:
Stop AAPI Hate: StopAAPIHate.org
AAPI GoFundMe: gofundme.com/aapi
Act to Change: acttochange.org
Hate Is A Virus: hateisavirus.org
Asian Americans Advancing Justice: advancingjustice-alc.org
The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA): ncapaonline.org