How Covid-19 fueled Asian American & Pacific Islander Hate

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Although nearly half of the US population (48.4%) is fully vaccinated, COVID-19 continues to spread hate as some weaponize it to spread hate against the Asian American community, leaving​​ a rise in hate incidents in its wake. (Photo/Unsplash

This article is by guest writer Aurora Lai.

When the severity of Covid-19 became evident to the U.S. in March 2020, former President Trump took to Twitter to spread anti-Asian hashtags and a series of racist rhetoric, most notably referring to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “kung flu.” By blaming the spread of the virus on East Asians, Trump contributed to normalizing anti-Asian violence, making it seem okay for others to mock and scapegoat East Asians as responsible for the virus. 

“Especially since the surge in hate crimes was following the covid outbreak, I think everyone should be more careful about the rhetoric we use as it can have real implications,”  junior Rosa Wu said. ABC News Medical Unit contributor Dr. John Brownstein also drew this conclusion, finding that online conversations featuring anti-Asian sentiments often translate into real-life violent reactions. While the uptick cannot be entirely attributed to Trump’s use of racist rhetoric, Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder of AAPI Data, believes that his language contributed to fostering hate. An analysis by California State University revealed that hate crimes targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent in 2020 alone, and 6,603 anti-Asian incidents were reported to Stop AAPI Hate between March 2020 and March 2021. 

Racial incidents have occurred both online, such as local Western High School graduate Rachel Cheng—who endured an onslaught of racist cyberbullying following her salutatorian speech last month—and in-person, verbally and physically. Shootings in Georgia this March took the lives of eight women, six of which are of Asian descent—Delaina Ashley Yuan, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon C. Park, Hyundai J. Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong A. Yue. Recent violent attacks on Asian American elders include being violently shoved to the ground, stabbed in public, and more.

Ultimately, the nationwide surge of violence against Asian Americans galvanized bipartisan support in Congress to pass the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act. Vox Politics and Policy Reporter Li Zhou explained that the bill would bolster hate crime tracking and data collection by designating a Justice Department Official to review potential hate crime incidents, earn grants for regional reporting hotlines, and assign police training for hate crime response.

The effectiveness of the bill, however, is in question. “Although it is a step in the right direction, by using the criminal justice system as the forefront of combatting this hate, the act fails to address the other ways in which the discriminations manifests itself,”  senior Prateek Gupta said. Others worry that the bill relies too heavily on policing: putting the responsibility on police to decipher between “hate incidents” and “hate crimes.”  Although “hate incidents” are motivated by bias against one’s race, religion, ethnic/national origin, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, they are not considered criminal acts. “Hate incidents” become “hate crimes” when a perpetrator incites physical violence or a potential victim has a reasonable fear of injury.

For far too long, Asian Americans have been on the receiving end of stereotypes that identify them as the “model minority,” which characterizes Asian Americans as a polite,  law-abiding group who achieve a higher level of success in contrast to other minority groups. 

Even though the Covid-19 Hates Crimes Act enforces policing, it cannot alleviate other forms of discrimination, such as the ridicule of Asian American facial features, the criticization of cultural food, and the sexualization and fetishization, that are platforms for hate. 

“I think the response to the recent surge in anti-Asian violence has been largely reactive rather than preventative. Of course, raising awareness and funds to help those who have already been affected by this violence is great, but saying #StopAsianHate and passing a police-related congressional bill doesn’t really address the root cause,”  senior Jin Kwon said. 

“I think at a larger scale, a good step would be to teach students about the brutal systemic violence and alienation faced by Asians since the creation of this country because a lot of people think it ends at just lightly teasing someone for their eye shape. There’s a lot of complexity behind anti-Asian racism (effects of imperialism, sexual violence/fetishization, etc.) but the first step should be to change the fact that so many Americans are uneducated about even just surface-level history/politics because ignorance breeds bias.” 

With too many Americans living under this mantra of “ignorance is bliss,” Columbia University law professor Katherine Frankie agrees that “Education, public messaging—particularly from elected officials—and other community-based programs aimed at reconciliation and repair are more likely to reduce the incidents of hate crimes” as opposed to the bill itself. 

That was the motive behind the founding of the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate. Co-founders Cynthia Choi, Russell Jeung and Manjusha Kulkarni believed if no one reported racially charged incidents, it would suggest they were not serious to Asian American communities. By providing an accessible self-report form in 14 different languages and dialects on their website, Stop AAPI Hate provides a resource to counter anti-Asian hate. 

To better understand what other steps should be taken to stop anti-Asian violence on the local and national levels, it’s important that we listen to the members of the AAPI community that we have at our school. 

For senior Prateek Gupta, he believes, “The best course of action should be to work towards de-normalizing Asian American hate. For national and local governments this means having discussions with members of the AAPI and other minority communities about what they can do for each community in order to help end different forms of institutionalized hatred. The main thing that every individual should focus on is fighting ingrained biases within ourselves. If everyone were to stay a little more conscious about how their discourse exemplifies racist biases (ie. ‘harmless jokes’ that follow derogatory tropes), we as a community can help make our spaces safer for everyone to engage in.” 

Other ways that students can contribute to reducing anti-Asian violence include donating to any of the organizations or at any of the links and educating themselves on the material listed below: 

Since the underlying root cause of discrimination against Asian Americans in the US was formed long before Covid-19, the end of the pandemic won’t bring an end to the hate or fear. The very least people can do to move towards ending anti-Asian hate is to be conscious of their references to other cultures, educate themselves and others, and spread awareness, whether they are Asian or not. 

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