Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have increased drastically all around the world, but most notably in the United States. The thousands of cases being reported in recent months have ranged from being spat on and verbally harassed to incidents of physical assault.
On the 28th of January, an 84-year-old Thai man was shoved to the ground and died of his injuries. A woman was slugged by a man who yelled, “Asians need to be put in their place”. A Filipino American man on a train car was slashed from ear to ear with a box cutter while witnesses stood by and did nothing. On the night of the 14th of July, an elderly Chinese woman was slapped by two men and then set on fire. A Chinese man walking home was stabbed in the back. A shooting in Atlanta targeting three massage parlors resulted in 8 people being killed, 6 of them being Asian women. A 30 year-old American of Chinese descent attempted to defend himself after verbal abusers shouted racial slurs and racist remarks at him, which led to him being beaten unconscious. Another woman was called the “Chinese virus” by a man who then proceeded to spit on her child. These are just a few of the 3,800 hate crimes against Asians during the pandemic, not counting many more that have gone unreported.
What is the source of this animosity? Hate crimes against Asian Americans have been rising since 2016, but evidence suggests that the past year’s surge in hate crimes have been driven by racist reaction to Covid-19. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus” which appears to have strengthened the association between Asians and the disease in the minds of his followers, expressed through social media. This rhetoric tapped into a history of anit-Asian racism and violence in the United States. The rise in Chinese immigration in the late 19th century triggered the “yellow peril” stereotype. This consequently led to policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Executive Order 9066 being justified. Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism – a longtime respected source of expertise on hate crimes – Brian Levin wrote in a report, “Presidential statements have correlated both increases and decreases in hate crimes.” Moreover, Asian Americans are often stereotyped as being meek, weak and passive, which, according to research, makes them more attractive targets.
The hate crimes against Asian Americans have been proven to differ from those against other groups. Data from the National-Incident-Based Reporting System which were used by a team of researchers have proven that Asian Americans are more likely to be victimized by other members of minority groups. 26% of offenders of anti-Asian hate crimes are non-white compared to 1% of those who commit hate crimes against African Americans. “Talking about how both Asian and Black communities experience violence can be helpful in showing how much our communities have in common when it comes to battling white supremacy,” CJ Leung, a member of the nonviolent protest group Asians 4 Black Lives, said. It is important that minority groups support each other, as although the same racist logistic schemes oppressing Black communities and other minority communities may look different than those in Asian communities, it is still the same system relegating us to the margins, keeping us in subordinate positions and out of leadership positions.
There have been various protests against Asian hate following the deadly spa shootings across the United States.
Drawing on social psychology research, there are some science-backed ways to reduce hatred and division. A 2019 paper found that more diverse cities with more Asian Americans in positions of power led to Asian Americans being seen more often as just Americans. Elevating Asian Americans as Americans is helpful in the breakdown of stereotypes and encourages people to take on a more inclusive definition of American identity.
The “model minority” stereotype is commonly promoted in American society, so seeking to promote counter-stereotypical information is important in battling these stereotypes. This could be done by asking media organisations to cover nuances of being Asian American, as it has been shown that television is a powerful medium in breaking down stereotypes and promoting tolerance.
Donating to a number of non-profit organisations which have been mobilized to provide assistance and resources to the Asian American community is extremely helpful and important. These organisations (like AAJC) not only bring awareness to issues of anti-Asian hate – they also provide advocacy as well as legal support to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
Getting to know individuals instead of focusing on group identity is a good way to reduce the brain’s tendency to categorize people and see them through stereotypes. Additionally, civic leaders should encourage “perspective taking and giving”. This means letting Asian Americans share their stories as well as people from other groups. Research has shown that dominant or majority groups benefit from hearing perspectives from members of minority groups.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of anti-Asian hate crime cases has risen by 149% in the US. As Kamala Harris, who is of South Asian descent, said, “Racism is real in America and it always has been.” During a time like this, it is especially important to protect the vulnerable, promote respect, embrace minorities, and fight back against this tide of violence.