Ever since former president Trump and his administration started referring to the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, as the “China virus,” Americans of Asian descent have been unfairly targeted in hate-driven crimes across the country. These incidents of violence aren’t subsiding now that we have a new administration — in fact, they continue to rise.
Casting blame seems to be a favorite American pastime, but racism and senseless violence will never bring solutions. This disturbing American reality begs the question — why isn’t the anti-Asian-American violence on the rise a major news story right now? What can the media and public do in stopping these hate crimes?
An American history of violence towards Asian Americans
Violence and racism targeted towards people of Asian descent have been a serious issue in America’s past and present since the first Asian immigrants arrived in a wave in the 1850s. During the gold rush period, so many Chinese immigrants were discriminated against, threatened, displaced, and forcibly driven out of their homes and settlements.
Throughout the 1800s, horrifying incidents of violence like the 1871 Chinese massacre and the Rock Springs massacre continued against Asian communities, and The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was one of the first official laws limiting immigration based on race. White Americans spread racist misinformation about diseases in Asian communities, and Asian workers on the transcontinental railroad were paid only a fraction of white wages, despite making up 90% of the project’s labor force — and they were banned from naturalizing as American citizens.
The damaging and xenophobic stereotypes circulated in the 1800s worsened in the 1900s with World War II and the Vietnam War. In 1942 — only 80 years ago — almost the entire Japanese American population was rounded up and forced into internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
What’s happening right now
These xenophobic acts — and so many more — are what make up the history of America’s treatment of its Asian population, and yet Asian Americans only continue to contribute to and improve our society.
Take, for example, Jane Chen, founder and CEO of Embrace, an enterprise dedicated to helping premature babies, Ai-jen Poo, founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, or Ellen Pao, inclusion activist and former CEO of Reddit. Despite their critical contributions to improving our country, some Americans are choosing to see Asian individuals — who are obviously completely unrelated to the pandemic — through a xenophobic lense of irrational and unfounded blame.
Between March 19 and December of 2020, people reported 2,808 incidents of anti-Asian-American violence or discrimination to the website Stop AAPI Hate (or Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) as pandemic panic and Trump-fueled racism continued to rage. California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism estimated that anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since 2019.
Last March, a Myanmarese American man named Bawi Cung and his two sons, ages 3 and 6, were stabbed and wounded in Texas while eating at a Sam’s Club. In January, 84-year-old Thai American Vicha Ratanapakdee was pushed to the ground by a stranger while taking a walk, and he subsequently died of his injuries. In February, a 91-year old man in the Chinatown area of Oakland, California, was brutally attacked in broad daylight, and the arrested suspect has been involved in a series of other recent anti-Asian attacks.
Unfortunately, these are only a few examples of thousands of similar incidents occurring across the country.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has caused considerable hardships around the world — but violently seeking scapegoats based on false, racist narratives will not solve the problem. The surge in violence against Asian Americans is only adding to the death toll, division and darkness gripping our country. And it needs to stop. Now.
How we can take steps to stop hate crimes
The media has largely ignored the recent increase in anti-Asian-American violence the same way the country itself has ignored racially-driven crimes and attitudes for far too long. While increasing coverage of this phenomenon will help to raise awareness, government agencies can also take steps to stem the tide of cruelty. Here’s how:
- Acknowledging and condemning violence: Government officials and the media alike should immediately condemn hate crimes when they occur, inform the public of their measures to address the issue, and take those measures.
- Enacting stricter hate-crime laws: One way to deter anti-Asian violence and other hate crimes is by enacting stricter penalties and narrowing the definition of which specific acts qualify under such legislation.
- Monitor and report on actions in stopping hate crimes: Officials also must track how effective their intervention efforts are to fine-tune their approach.
- Partner with community groups: Government agencies have a wide reach, but they aren’t omnipresent. By partnering with local community groups, they can get valuable insight into local struggles and how to best address them.
Additionally, there are things you can do to take action. Stopping hate crimes is every citizen’s responsibility. Take the first step by taking one of these actions:
- Intervene: You don’t have to stand up to a bully and possibly become a victim yourself. However, if you witness someone being harassed on public transportation, why not sit or stand next to them and strike up a friendly conversation? There is safety in numbers, and your kindness will go far to ease their anxiety.
- Call and write your representatives: Your representatives tend to act in their self-interests — it’s unfortunate but true. However, they do respond to pressure from constituents. After all, it’s how they keep their job — play micromanaging boss and keep the pressure on them to act.
- Repair acts of hate-filled vandalism: Many urban centers that once contained hate-filled graffiti showcase impressive works of art today. Maybe you aren’t the next street Picasso, but you could organize a cleanup effort or slap a concealing coat over the offending words and symbols.
- Educate each other: If you were a victim of anti-Asian American violence, reach out to media members. Offer to share your story. Many outlets need human interest pieces, and you could use your experience to prevent others from suffering your mistreatment. If not, be someone who cares — share others’ stories and use your voice and social platforms to make your friends and family aware of what’s going on. Ask them to share, too.
We need to address violence against Asian Americans
When it comes to hate crimes and racism, the only way to end senseless violence is to raise awareness. We need to pay attention to what’s happening — and work to bring it to an end together.