Author: Teresa Mettela (Left Leaning)
*Photo by Jason Leung from Unsplash: Rise Up With Asians Rally & March, donate at gofundme.com/aapi
What’s happening in the AAPI community?
On March 16 2021, Robert Aaron Long drove to three spas in Atlanta, Georgia wielding a handgun he purchased the day before. He shot 9 people, 8 eight of them died. Long, 21, was admitted to being hyper-obssessed with sex and pornography. After being kicked out of his family’s house in Atlanta, Long targeted the kinds of spas where the customers bought “massages with happy endings.”
Long stated that the establishments “tempted” him to act inappropriately. This incident, while disturbing in it of itself, speaks to a larger fear and sexualization of Asians in the United States.
The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is the fastest growing racial group in the country, growing over four times as rapidly as the total U.S. population and expected to double to over 47 million by 2060. Although the AAPI community is growing in number, it remains one of the most understudied racial groups in the country.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a record increase in hate crimes against the AAPI community. In part, President Trump’s references to COVID as the “China virus” or the “Kung Flu” has definitely provoked the harmful attacks on AAPI communities across the nation. In fact, the reporting center, Stop AAPI Hate, was created on March 19, 2020 in response to the significant increase in APPI hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic. The group is made up of members from the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University.
“Our approach recognizes that in order to effectively address anti-Asian racism we must work to end all forms of structural racism leveled at Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color,” says the Stop AAPI Hate website.
Professor Richard Calichman, Director of the Asian Studies Program at CCNY, reminds us that the history of anti-Asian racism in the US can be traced back to a point that precedes the Trump presidency.
How did we get here?
Beginning with the AAPI community, we must reject the reappearance of anti-Asian sentiment and understand that this ignorance did not originate with the coronavirus but rather contains deeper historical roots. Although several media outlets and law enforcement agencies reduced the Atlanta shooter’s story to a one-dimensional motive, they failed to report on the “most toxic intersecting factors plaguing society today and contributing to rampant violence,” says the Open Society Foundation.
“‘Always’ might be too strong a word, but certainly there are links between the current discrimination and the “Yellow Peril” phenomenon of the early 20th century,” Calichman told NP.
Professor Calichman is referring to the Western fears that Asians, in particular the Chinese immigrants, would occupy their lands and disrupt Western values – such as freedom, Christianity, democracy, and technological advancement. However old this sentiment is, it still echoes policies that are being presented today in American politics, society, and culture.
The “Yellow Peril” originated in the mid-nineteenth century when many Americans began to feel threatened by rapid immigration from China to the United States. Reasons for this include xenophobia as well as more complex causes such as “labor tensions and shifting national identities” during that time period.
A common rhetoric among working-class Americans and European immigrants was that Chinese immigrants would compete unfairly for their jobs by working for lower wages. Specifically, Irish immigrant laborers found themselves in competition with Chinese workers, as both groups struggled at the lower end of the wage scale.
Today, we see that many Americans are still uncomfortable with Chinese immigrant skill set. Not only that, their clothing and hairstyles are often quoted as “unfamiliar” or “threatening” because Chinese laborers seemed to defy Western gender roles. These fears about Asian Americans led to discriminatory legislation that limited immigration, prevented Asian immigrants from seeking citizenship, and enacted unfair taxation on Chinese-owned small businesses.
Recognizing the history of America’s phobia of people of Asian descent is crucial to preventing these violent attacks in the future. According to the Open Society Foundations, after slavery was formally abolished in the United States, “thousands of Chinese people were brought to the country to work in industries such as railroads, sugar plantations, and mining”. In fact, the Page Act of 1875 unfairly excluded East Asian women from the country because of stereotypes that they were sex workers and “temptations for white men.” This fetishization of AAPI women motivated Long’s brutal shooting of the Atlanta spas.
“Of course, but it is important to remember that this is not a problem unique to the US. All nations experience the interrelated problems of nationalism and racism given that these are structural features of the nation-state system,” says Calichman.
What can we do?
“Help can be given in a variety of ways, but ultimately it is a question of recognizing that questions of national and racial identity must be critically examined rather than passively accepted,” says Calichman.
On an executive level, Calichman claims that the Biden administration can help provide additional funding for enhanced police presence in those areas with greater concentrations of Asian and Asian-American populations. Also, Calichman points to the conservative media certainly as a bearer of great responsibility for the national attacks on the AAPI community. He also wants us to recognize that US economic competition with China has encouraged criticism of China from the center-left.
“This latter must be more conscious of the manner in which such discourse can easily feed into anti-Asian discrimination,” says Calichman.
There are smaller steps one can take to support the AAPI community through this racial crisis. Many community groups that support for AAPI rights encourage individuals to report hate incidents. The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association —a group of thousands of Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law professors and law students—has created a bank of resources that include everything from “explaining the difference between a hate crime and a hate incident to detailing ways to report hate crimes to law enforcement,” states a TIME article.
The organization has also launched a pro bono Hate Crimes Task Force that provides legal resources to victims of hate crimes. A consistent method of showing support for the AAPI community is to donate to the cause. Onset by the current increase in AAPI hate crimes across the U.S, a number of campaigns have been launched to show their solidarity with the AAPI community.
In early March, GoFundMe launched #StopAsianHate that seeks to name local fundraisers to help hate crime victims and increase protection and security for AAPI communities. GoFundMe also established the Support the AAPI Community Fund in order to raise $1 million that will be allocated to various NGOs.
Take the time to continue learning about anti-Asian discourse. It is important to understand how current stories, like Robert Long’s, are not only driven by racist sentiments surrounding the coronavirus – anti-Asian racism and xenophobia have always been present in this country. Recognizing the root of this discrimination, through political policies and social behaviors, is a necessary step in addressing and minimizing AAPI hate.