What’s Behind the Latest Wave of Anti-Asian Hatred?

Eight people, six of whom have been identified as Asian women, were killed in shootings at three separate spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday evening. The suspect, a 21-year-old white man, has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. A ninth victim was injured and survived. 

This incident is the latest and by far the most visible in a pattern of increasing crime against the AAPI community (Asian-American & Pacific Islander) in the United States. According to research done by California State University-San Bernadino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes have more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic. Despite an overall decrease in hate crimes in the country’s biggest cities, anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 149% in 2020. This devastating trend has left Asian-Americans on edge and triggered fear and anxiety that their neighborhoods, homes, and businesses are being targeted. Elders, it seems, are being deliberately singled out. 

Although many have been consistently speaking out against the spark in anti-AAPI violence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tragedy that took place on Tuesday has been a wake up call for the entire nation. Activists, celebrities, politicians, and individuals have been flooding social media with sadness, rage, prayers, calls for action, educational infographics, and mental health resources since Tuesday.

While some may be asking how we got here, to many it’s incredibly obvious. Rhetoric and attitudes towards people of Asian descent have become increasingly hateful due to the cruel and wrongful association of China with COVID-19.

Data shows that regardless of political affiliation, people in the U.S. generally believe China is responsible for the pandemic and subsequent worldwide lockdowns. This could be in part due to former President Trump incessantly blaming the virus on China throughout the last year, but upon further analysis, we see that even a great deal of people on the left seem to have this impression as well.

Why was it so easy to convince Americans that China caused the pandemic? As many Asian people will tell you themselves, racism towards AAPI people has been rampant in this country for centuries. Harmful stereotypes about Asians perpetuated by the powers that be can be traced back to a wave of legal Chinese immigration in the 1800s, which led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 — the first law in U.S. history that barred immigration solely on race and placed a 10-year moratorium on all Chinese immigration. In the introduction to her book Romance and The Yellow Peril, author Gina Marchetti wrote, “Within the context of America’s consistently ambivalent attitudes toward Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and other peoples of color, the yellow peril has contributed to the notion that all nonwhite people are by nature physically and intellectually inferior, morally suspect, heathen, licentious, disease-ridden, feral, violent, uncivilized, infantile, and in need of guidance of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”

Rhetoric and attitudes towards people of Asian descent have become increasingly hateful due to the cruel and wrongful association of China with COVID-19.

What exactly is “yellow peril”? In his essay The Malleable Yet Undying Nature of the Yellow Peril, Tim Yang at Dartmouth University explains: “Though Asian Americans today have ‘achieved’ model minority status in the eyes of the white majority in America by ‘pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps’ through our supposedly quiet, dignified demeanor and gritty, ‘overachieving’ work ethic, the terms of the racial discrimination we face remain the same today as they have since the first Asians began settling en masse in the United States more than a century and a half ago. At the root of this discrimination is the idea of a ‘Yellow Peril,’ which, in the words of John Dower is ‘the core imagery of apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers’ amidst a fear of invasion from the sleeping giant of Asia. Since its inception in the late 19th century, the idea of the Yellow Peril has colored the discourse regarding Asian Americans and has changed back and forth from overt, ‘racist hate,’ to endearing terms of what Frank Chin describes as ‘racist love.’ In times of war, competition or economic strife, Asian Americans are the evil enemy; in times of ease, Asian Americans are the model minority able to assimilate into American society. What remains the same is that the discrimination, whether overt or not, is always there.”

American society has a long road ahead in terms of making things right. Yet even within our own community, non-desi Asian Muslim communities are often underserved and overlooked. It is worth noting here that nearly 62% of the world’s Muslim population resides in Asia. Although most people associate Islam with the Middle East (part of which is in Asia) and North Africa, nearly ⅔ of the world’s Muslims call Asia home, something that many Muslims themselves don’t realize. Indonesia alone has 209 million Muslims, with over 87% of their population identifying as Muslim. Not to mention, there is the ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims that’s been happening in China for quite some time now. 

For more info on the #StopAsianHate movement and to find out how you can help, visit https://www.stopasianhate.info.