“An Asian woman was fatally stabbed while walking her dogs in California.”
“Eight people, mostly Asian women, killed in Atlanta shooting.”
“Asian woman, 65, knocked down, repeatedly kicked as witnesses appear to watch.”
“A man threw rocks at an Asian woman driving her 6-year-old son, police say.”
As one Atlanta-area police chief would say, it seems like a lot of people are having “bad days”.
But should those “bad days” come at the expense of an innocent life? Of an elderly grandmother on her way to get groceries? Of spa-owners looking to make a living for their families? We all have bad days, but going on mass murder sprees, voicing obscene remarks, or doing harm to innocent bystanders is not a reality we should become accustomed to. Complacency is not an option when silence kills — and kill it does.
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has spiked Asian hate nearly 150% in major cities like L.A. and New York — as per a study conducted by the Center for Hate and Extremism — but these crimes by no means a new occurrence. Former president Trump’s exploitation of anti-Asian language such as “China Virus” or “Kung-Flu” though inflammatory, is not the origin of this bigotry. His rhetoric has only given a platform to hate that was already brewing in a society far too apologetic towards it.
Understanding the history of Asian xenophobia in America is critical to understanding how the narratives of white supremacy, racism, and fetishization remain unchanged. As Chinese immigrants flocked to America in the 1800s in search of work, the country’s first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875, refused to recognize East-Asian women as citizens and instead deemed them as sex workers. This dehumanization extended to Chinese men shortly after and wasn’t repealed until the mid-1900s — the same decade as Japanese-Americans were thrown into internment camps.
From the very first immigration bill to the most recent, Asian-Americans have never been a legislative or societal priority in this country. They have been viewed as sex workers, job-stealing immigrants, respiratory viruses — anything but humans.
Perhaps change is around the corner.
Or perhaps that’s what we thought 50 years ago.
The extent to which society manipulates Asian-Americans extends even further when considering the model minority myth: the belief that all Asians are of a higher socioeconomic class. Not only does this vast generalization completely ignore the realities of the Asian-American community — such as the 12% that lives in poverty or nuances between ethnic groups — but this distorted perception is used to wedge a racial divide between other races.
Often Asian-American success is used to invalidate the effort of African-Americans. A successful Asian is seen as the perfect evidence that higher rates of poverty or crime in another racial group are a result of poor effort, not years of systemic oppression. When white society and its years of injustice towards African-Americans and other marginalized groups are to be blamed, Asian success becomes the scapegoat.
Minorities should not be pitted against each other in a battle-royale of escaping systemic white supremacy.
It has been this way for decades, but recognizing just how predatory and dangerous such a generalization can be is a first step we need to take.
For a country built on immigration, America should be a land for people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities, right? Surely a country whose founding fathers were once immigrants themselves can’t demonize others for being the same?
For decades America’s false promise towards upholding a nation that is not only tolerant but appreciative of people of color is perhaps its biggest shortcoming. Progress is being made and to many America does offer a welcoming community, but should we be satisfied when innocent lives are still being lost to bigotry?
Even with new leadership in the Oval Office, just how imminent is change? Some of President Biden’s latest actions include allocating $50 million to AAPI survivors of domestic violence/sexual assault and expanding upon his COVID-19 Equity Task Force established in January. He has also advised the Department of Justice to launch an initiative combatting Asian hate such as increasing data transparency and accessibility.
In a country where politics and social issues are often seen as “black and white,” this is a welcome change. Perhaps America is finally opening its eyes to the widespread hate that has lived in plain sight — the hate that follows you home, assaults you on the subway, throws rocks at your car. The hate that is excused as a “bad day.”
Americans have faced no shortage of bad days over the past year, but for Asian-Americans, the word “bad” doesn’t suffice when capturing the fear and bigotry they face for simply being who they are.
And even as government officials take long overdue action against AAPI hate, change requires a collective effort. It’s only when we confront our own implicit biases regarding the Asian community — regarding the model minority myth or hypersexualization of Asian women — that change will sustain. Social media campaigns such as #StopAAPIHate and #StopAsianHate are leading what needs to become a cultural revolution.
We can learn to be more empathetic to the Asian-American experience by simply listening to others share their experiences with microaggressions, bigotry, and outright violence. A recent AAPI Data survey reported that 25% of the AAPI community has faced deliberate violence, though that number is likely much higher when considering unreported racism. From intentionally mispronounced names, to prodding questions about where they’re “really” from, to being spit on in the street, the everyday reality of Asian-Americans is both disturbing and heartbreaking.
It took decades of mistreatment and damaging generalizations for our country to devolve to a point of such barbaric violence, to a point where people’s lives are simply another tragedy on the news.
But we are a country of progress and when change is at our doorstep, we adapt, we evolve.
And as intertwined with America’s history AAPI hate is, our “bad days” do not have to define us anymore.
So here’s to the good days just on the horizon, just a bit of empathy away.
Aryav Bothra is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl