Addressing Asian-American Hatred
The Chicago River had been dyed green, an exuberant vibe was in the air, and most folks were already dressing up for the occasion. Like many people, I had been looking forward to Saint Patrick’s Day. That happy feeling, however, was quickly dashed. On March 16, a gunman went on a shooting rampage across Atlanta, targeting Asian-owned spas and killing eight people. Most of the victims were Asian-Americans. Most of the victims were women.
And low and behold, the gunman, a white man, was taken into custody.
Alive, mind you. We all know how this country works by now.
Amidst the anger and heartbreak that has surged throughout the Asian community, there is a lack of surprise among some of us. Mass shootings are the norm in the United States. Violence and prejudice against Asian-Americans is the norm. And during a pandemic, where anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia has surged exponentially, it was going to happen sooner or later, and yet never should have been inevitable. Eight people are dead.
But, it’s difficult to speak up about the concerns of the Asian-American community. Often, people will dismiss our complaints or ignore them entirely. Others will try to make it a “what about me!” scenario, as if a competition over which community is more marginalized does anyone any good. The problems that many Asian-Americans face are vast. Hate crimes against Asian Americans in major U.S. cities “surged by nearly 150 percent in 2020, even as overall hate crimes fell,” according to PBS NewsHour. And an ongoing truth still stands: hate against Asian-Americans has always been woven into the fabric of American society, and seldom is it addressed, because usually it’s swept under the rug.
In the 19th century, as Chinese workers immigrated to the U.S. to seek better lives, they were lynched, robbed, raped, and even had their communities burnt down. The first anti-immigration law in American history — the Chinese Exclusion Act — was specifically targeted towards Asians, and Chinese-Americans weren’t even allowed to be considered American citizens until 1943.
In an infamous moment of the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, condemning roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps until the war’s end. In the decades that followed, incidents like the murder of Vincent Chen and the burning of Koreatown during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles became interwoven in the long-line of hatred against Asian-Americans. For decades, and even today, American media has often mocked, ridiculed, and stereotyped Asian-Americans. Many times, there’s even whitewashing of character roles meant for Asians, as seen when Scarlett Johansson played Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action adaptation of the classic anime “Ghost in the Shell.”
Since the first Asian immigrants stepped foot onto American soil, they’ve been demonized. Asian women are often hypersexualized, fetishized and portrayed as prostitutes, predatory gold-diggers, or submissive toys. Asian men, meanwhile, are portrayed either as subhuman threats to women or as wimpy, meek, emasculated and feminine. We are often mocked for our physical features, our culture, and our language.
Those Kung Fu stereotypes don’t feel funny anymore, if they ever did. Many Asian-Americans, myself included, have grown up in environments where we didn’t feel like we belonged. We were mocked for our ethnic heritage, and we resent it. Many Asian-Americans resent the feeling of alienation, so many of us have tried to conform, and by the time we’ve realized we shouldn’t be ashamed of who we are, many of us have forsaken so much of our heritage we now feel like strangers. Our resentment has turned into internalized hatred. We have gone along with the jokes, the mocking faces, the stereotypes from our own friends and peers.
Eventually, though, there’s a breaking point where we can’t stand it anymore. We faced racism even as kids, because racism against Asian-Americans is so normalized it’s accepted. No one ever condemns it. Racism against Asian-Americans stems deeper than you think, especially in other communities of color.
We aren’t your enemies.
It often seems that America doesn’t want to accept Asian-Americans.
We are viewed as foreign. Oriental.
We are, in part, picked on, because we are different. Many of us were raised on the values of our parents. The values of the East often express conformity and solemn attitudes compared to the individualism and free nature of the West. As such, we are viewed as pushovers, since for years we and our elders tried to push forward and not cause trouble. Yet, even when we do speak up, we are ignored, or outright dismissed. We are relegated to nothing more than established stereotypes, treated as such instead of actual people.
On one hand, it’s the model minority myth, the idea that Asian-Americans are always successful. It may seem like a positive stereotype, but it instead hides the issues that face our communities. It shoves us all into a monolith, ignoring the divisions and disparities between our ethnic groups. It covers up the discrimination we face in the workplace and in education, the violence and harassment we face, and gives justification for others to discriminate and hate Asian-Americans because we’re viewed as privileged pushovers. It’s used as a division against other minorities, as the model minority myth creates a pawn out of the Asian-American to put down and ridicule other minorities, inflaming further racial tension.Yet, on the other hand, we are presented as the Yellow Peril. We are seen as alien invaders, threats to Western civilization, monstrous and treacherous in nature. “Viruses,” you might say. It’s almost incredible how quick the perception of Asian-Americans can switch in the blink of an eye. Many of us had accepted the model minority myth. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Soon, many of us began to fear for our own safety just walking down the street in our own neighborhoods. I feared for myself, my friends, and family. Our people were harassed, our women assaulted, our elders attacked and murdered in broad daylight. Many of us began to carry weapons. Many of us began looking over our shoulder more than usual.
I thought it was the 21st century, not 1871.
It took an old Thai man, 84-year old Vicha Ratanapakdee, being shoved to his death by Antoine Watson, a 19-year old black man, two months ago in San Francisco for the media to take notice. It took one of our own, a grandpa, being murdered in broad daylight before the national media took complete notice, after more than a year of rising xenophobia and Asian hate crimes. Racism against Asians hasn’t gotten worse. No, it’s just returned to its original state.
March 16 was a massacre, where a lone white gunman killed eight people, mainly Asian women. In an insult to every human who has ever had a bad day and did not murder people, the police stated that the shooter was having a “really bad day,” and blamed it on a “sexual addiction.” Violence against Asian women, who are often fetishized and hypersexualized, isn’t something you can just blame on a bad day or sexual addiction, especially when the shooter specifically targeted Asian-owned businesses. It’s infuriating. On March 18 in a Congressional hearing, Texas Congressman Chip Roy decided to talk about glorified lynchings and the Chinese Communist Party, instead of the topic of the hearing: the rise of anti-Asian sentiment during this pandemic. That’s not foolishness or cluelessness; it’s racism.
For a whole year, the Covid-19 virus was referred to as the “Kung Flu” and “China Virus” by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies. You know, the same person whose rhetoric caused the Capitol to be sieged on Jan. 6 while he tried to overturn the election. Such terms might not seem harmful to you, but when you associate the virus that’s killed almost three million people worldwide with an ethnic minority, you’re going to launch a wave of violence and hatred.
It’s dehumanization. It’s disgraceful. It’s the same as associating terrorism with Muslims or drug-dealing criminals with Hispanic immigrants. It’s eerily similar to the scapegoating and justification for violence that has been used against the Jewish people for millennia. Fears and hatred of Asian people have been prevalent for centuries in the Western world, so for it to rise once again in renewed force isn’t surprising, only heartbreaking.
No more. Stop the Asian hate. Asian-Americans aren’t viruses.
We aren’t communist spies or dirty plague carriers or hypersexualized toys or some pebbles you can kick around.
We’re your fellow Americans. If you can’t stand up for your own countrymen, you’ve already failed your civic duty as a citizen of this country. If you spent all summer going on about racial justice but won’t speak up now, you’re a phony. Racial justice isn’t a game or some trend you can put on your Instagram like a black square. It’s more than just a movement: it’s showing basic human decency. Stand with us, listen to us, allow our voices to be heard. If you’re an Asian-American who won’t speak up, speak up now. Refusal to do so is embarrassing and pathetic. If you won’t speak up for or defend your own, what good are you for? Complacency begets continued hatred and violence. Cowardice enables atrocity, as we saw on March 16. Such prejudice won’t stop, until we as the Asian-American community stand up in solidarity and fight back like hell against the racism that fosters the violence.
To you, my fellow Asian brothers and sisters, at Maine West or wherever you are, don’t live in fear after what happened on March 16 in Atlanta. Stand tall. Mourn for the dead and grieve. Show solidarity with the rest of the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Look out for each other, connect with each other, and advocate for each other. Be proud of your heritage. Be proud of your culture. Embrace your features. You don’t need to earn the right to be an American, because you are an American — as American as anyone else in this country — and no one can take that from you.
Take pride in your identity, take pride in who you are, and stand strong. Most importantly, be safe my friends. May better days be ahead for our nation.