A woman attacked on the streets of New York. A man’s face slashed open with a knife. Three different men, all of them living in California, assaulted while walking down the street. What all of these attacks have in common is that the victim was of Asian descent. The most recent addition to this number is the deadly Atlanta shooting, where 6 of the 8 victims were Asian-American women. All these attacks represent the increased amount of violence and bias that the Asian community has experienced since the beginning of the pandemic - especially by women and the elderly.
There is a long history of discrimination and violence towards Asians and Asian-Americans in the United States. 1854 saw the Supreme Court case People v. Hall, which ruled that those of Asian descent could not testify against White people in court, regardless of the type of crime that had been committed. In the decades following, both the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act looked to limit or outright ban Asian people, and specifically those of Chinese descent, from entering the United States. Although there have been several massacres or outbreaks of violence against Asians and Asian-Americans, one in particular that stands out is the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885. Aggression against Chinese mine workers resulted in 28 people killed, 79 homes destroyed, and hundreds of people fleeing, until they were sent back to continue working in the mines. Decades later, in the 1940s, the internment of Japanese Americans and immigrants in camps for the duration of World War II marked one of the most blatant forms of discrimination on the part of the United States government. Following the war, when many tried to return to their homes and businesses, many had been destroyed or vandalized. While these examples cover some of the larger instances of discrimination and violence towards Asians and Asian-Americans, they do not even begin to touch on the everyday racism and microaggressions that exist in society. Racism and microaggressions which usually end up becoming the basis for hate crimes and bias incidents.
The increase of hate crimes and bias incidents throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic is not unprecedented. The 2003 SARS pandemic, for instance, saw widespread instances of people avoiding Asian businesses, spewing hatred, and threatening individuals and organizations; this was especially true in Canada, which faced the worst outbreak outside of Southeast Asia. However, the scope and magnitude of the current pandemic has exacerbated these trends. According to a recent report published by Stop AAPI Hate, the organization had 3,795 hate incidents reported from March 19, 2020 through February 28, 2021. These incidents, which likely represent only a fraction of those that occured, ranged from verbal harassment to physical assault. In addition to the severity of the disease, other factors that have contributed to the high number of hate crimes and bias incidents as well. Chief among them is the rhetoric employed by many politicians blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic. As previously mentioned, disease outbreaks have previously led to increased discrimination against the parties believed to be “responsible” for it. As such, the World Health Organization has worked to discourage naming diseases after different regions, countries, or cities in recent years to decrease this stigma. But that did not stop politicians and everyday citizens alike from using loaded terms such as “kung-flu” and “China virus” when referring to COVID-19, blending political attacks against China with blame towards Asians and Asian-Americans.
However, even measuring the exact increase of hate crimes and bias incidents against Asians and Asian-Americans is complicated by both logistical and societal factors. Federal data is often incomplete, due to a combination of slow reporting and under-reporting by states and police departments. The tracking issues that result make it difficult to determine how frequent the attacks really are. Similarly, some are hesitant to draw conclusions based on state or city level hate crime reports. They feel that the smaller reports make changes in data look more significant, especially when there is only a small number of incidents taking place in said city. But more than that, discrimination and violence against Asians and Asian-Americans is so deeply rooted in the United States, as stated before - which makes it difficult to eliminate and very easy to brush off. Even in the wake of the recent shooting in Atlanta, where 6 out of 8 fatalities were Asian women, there has been hesitancy regarding labeling the incident a hate crime. Although Korean-language media reports a witness hearing the shooter say something about killing Asians, the gunman has denied that the killings were racially motivated. Incidents that result from unconscious or denied prejudices are still hate crimes, and must be treated as such. It is only when looking at the whole picture - the history of discrimination and violence, the current increase in incidents, and the barriers that exist in recognizing the problem - that the United States will be able to understand the scope of the fear and violence that Asians and Asian-Americans face every day.
1. Gillian Brockell, “The Long, Ugly History of Anti-Asian Racism and Violence in the U.S.,” The Washington Post (WP Company, March 20, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/03/18/history-anti-asian-violence-racism/.
2. Chelsea Cirruzzo, “What to Keep in Mind as You Talk about the Atlanta Spa Shootings,” https://www.thelily.com (The Lily, March 22, 2021), https://www.thelily.com/what-to-keep-in-mind-as-you-talk-about-the-atlanta-spa-shootings/?utm_campaign=ext_rweb&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=extension.
3. Gillian Brockell, “The Long, Ugly History of Anti-Asian Racism and Violence in the U.S.”
5. Justin Schram, “How Popular Perceptions of Risk from SARS Are Fermenting Discrimination,” BMJ : British Medical Journal (BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, April 26, 2003), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1125856/.
6. Russell Jeung et al., “Stop AAPI Hate National Report,” Stop AAPI, February 28, 2021, https://a1w.90d.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/210312-Stop-AAPI-Hate-National-Report-.pdf.
8. “Report of the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) in Relation to Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 ”(World Health Organization, May 5, 2011), https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA64/A64_10-en.pdf?ua=1.
9. Jiayang Fan, “The Atlanta Shooting and the Dehumanizing of Asian Women,” The New Yorker, March 19, 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-atlanta-shooting-and-the-dehumanizing-of-asian-women.
10. Jennifer Lee and Tiffany Huang, “'Resist Reducing Them to Statistics:' Anti-Asian Violence in the Face of COVID-19,” Columbia News, March 19, 2021, https://news.columbia.edu/news/resist-reducing-them-statistics-anti-asian-violence-face-covid-19.
11.Seashia Vang, “Atlanta Shootings Strike Fear into Asian American Community,” Human Rights Watch, March 19, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/18/atlanta-shootings-strike-fear-asian-american-community.