#StopAsianHate: The rise and roots of racially charged violence towards Asians during the COVID pandemic

Edited by Olivia Spahn-Vieira


On March 16th, 2021, a mass shooting spree targeting Asian massage parlors sparked a outpour of support for the #StopAsianHate campaign, a movement which has started to gain more traction with the rise in violence towards Asian-Canadians and Asian-Americans seen since the start of COVID-19. For many members of the Asian community, this rise in violence has instilled a new, constant fear into our lives. For Asian women, this fear has been doubled by the knowledge that we as Asian women face both discrimination for being Asian and for being women. Unfortunately, prejudice against Asians is nothing new in North American culture; Asian-Canadians and Asian-Americans have long been subject to discrimination in North American law and in daily life. While we mourn the losses of the eight dead from the Atlanta spa shootings, of which six were Asian women, it is important to educate ourselves on historical and current ways that Asian in North America have been discriminated against.


In written law, Asians have been discriminated against for centuries in both the U.S. and Canada. On July 1st, 1923, Canada enacted the Chinese Immigration Act, banning most forms of Chinese immigration to Canada. This ban did not only prohibit immigration from China, but also the immigration of any ethnically Chinese from Britain as well. The ban on Chinese immigration was the harshest imposed on any country from Canada at the time, and was imposed in addition to the already existing Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, which imposed a heavy tax on any Chinese immigrants. Although the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947, restrictions on Chinese immigration were not done away with until 1967, less than 55 years ago.


In culture, Asians have been stereotyped and dehumanized for centuries, with the roots of slurs like the C-slur stemming from the sounds of Chinese laborers being killed. During the Vietnam and Korean war, the demand for prostitution from local women increased with the arrival of American soldiers. Sex parlors and brothels filled with women, some working consensually and some against their will, started to surround American military bases. In both Korea and Vietnam, many women were also blatantly assaulted by American soldiers.  In Korea, “comfort women” were often pushed into sex with Army men. During the Vietnam war, the My Lai Massacre of 1968, one of the most shocking displays of this behavior, saw over 500 unarmed citizens dead and girls as young as 12 raped and killed. 


The overt sexualization and dehumanization of Asian people, especially Asian women, is not confined to law and wars. This is best seen when we look at the rhetoric and media portrayal of Asian people and culture. From “yellow fever” to “anime porn”, Asian women are constantly objectified as submissive sex objects. The ramifications of this fetishization are steep: the Atlanta shooter stated that his crimes were driven by his need to eliminate objects of sexual temptation, which for him seems to have been unassuming Asian women. For Asian men, “short dick” jokes have a longstanding place in the world of stand-up comedy and sitcoms. The fascination with Wasian and Blasian babies, the focus on Asians as always compliant, and the simultaneous sexualization and infantilization of Asian people border on creepy. 


During COVID 19, new terms like “bat-eater” (which echoes “dog-eater” or “curry-breath'', common insults towards Asians) and “chinese virus” have only fed into the dehumanization of Asians. Asians have long been pushed into the box of the model-minority myth, and although this has allowed for some Asian communities to prosper, it has also allowed other communities, such as Southeast Asians, to fall through the cracks, creating a huge economic disparity between Asian communities. The generalization of all Asians as the model-minority has caused Asian disrimination and hate to be dismissed for far too long. As acts of Asian discrimination have become so numerous and violent that they cannot be ignored, it is up to every community - not just those directly affected - to recognize the longstanding history of discrimination against Asians, and to work towards a more respectful society for Asian communities all across North America.


Author’s note: Due to the majority of recent violence being directed at East and Southeast Asian communities, this article focuses specifically on discrimination towards East and Southeast Asian communities by North American countries. It is important to note that discrimination against South, West, and Central Asians is also very prevalent and relevant to the #StopAsianHate movement.