Last week, 8 women of Asian descent were the targets of a hate crime in Atlanta, Georgia. While horrifying, xenophobia and discrimination against Asians is not a new phenomenon. It is deeply embedded in the history of our country. It was even written into the very laws of our land. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was one of the most blatant examples of discrimination against Asians in the nation’s history. This was the first immigration law ever that excluded an entire ethnic group.
This ignorance persists in the highest levels of government still today. In an article called “Coronavirus has sparked another epidemic in my prison: Anti-Asian Racism” from last December, one Asian-American, a prisoner named Felix Sitthivong, tells of his experience hearing the president speak about COVID-19 in his article for the Marshall Project. After hearing comments from former President Trump and other former White House staffers like “China virus” and “Kung-Flu,” Sitthivong says he was transported “back to being a kid with classmates who made fun of [him] because [his] home-packed lunch looked and smelled different.”
Sitthivong is not the only Asian-American to be affected by the racist rhetoric about coronavirus. In Erin Donaghue’s article for CBS, she writes of multiple instances where people were refused service, attacked, and lost business thanks to racist ideas. One man was refused entry into the hotel he had booked because he was an Asian-American. Another business owner says he lost over a million dollars, and that there is no way to get that money back.
President Trump kept no secrets about his xenophobia and racism. But he, along with any other politicians that spew racism, needs to understand that their words have consequences. Nothing could make that clearer than the events of this past Tuesday. Hateful words, especially coming from the person who is supposed to represent freedom and justice for all, have no place in our country.
And yet, according Sara Li, we are no closer to eradicating it than the 1800s. In fact, we are further away. She writes in her article entitled, “Asian-American Hate Has Surged During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Reports Find” that the organization Stop AAPI Hate recorded 2,583 incidents of discrimination and racism against Asian Americans in the U.S. between March 19th and August 5th, 2020, 14% of them against youth under 20 years old. I found the breakdown of the types of harassment especially disgusting: 43% verbal, 26% shunning, 21% online bullying, and 10% assault. I can only imagine what being shunned and attacked for a trait you have no control over would be like for a child, but I would bet it’s pretty traumatizing.
But the hate does not just affect youth, and it is embedded in our law enforcement. In statements from police about the perpetrator of Tuesday’s hate crime, police stated that he was having a “bad day.” I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve never killed anyone when I was having a bad day. Giving these excuses to racists and criminals only proves how deeply part of our system racism is.
However, the future isn’t all dark. Some Asian-American organizations are working to confront systemic racism by presenting solutions for how to handle it, particularly for youth. The blanket group, Stop AAPI Hate, representing the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco University, put out recommendations that bystanders intervene and investigate into any incidents, educators receive antibias training, and schools draft clear online anti-bullying policies. This is where allyship of non-Asians, especially white people, can come into play as well. White people have a privilege that Asian-Americans do not when it comes to harassment, and it is because of that privilege that white people have the responsibility to step in when they see harassment happening. In this day and age, even recording something for proof is the act of an upstander.
But perhaps their most impactful suggestion of the Stop AAPI Hate was the implementation of ethnic studies throughout schools’ curricula. I believe this last one will be the most effective to helping the country move towards eliminating xenophobia and discrimination against Asian-Americans. We often hear the phrase, “The youth are the future.” I believe this is true in that people will pass on the things they learn and come to believe as young kids to the generation after them. Non-Asians can contribute to this goal to be allies as well. If we educate all youth, regardless of race, on the historical roots of racism and how to empathize with people different from themselves, they will pass on that knowledge to those around them, and eventually, we might achieve a greater understanding of different cultures that will make people stop being so hateful towards them.