When news of the COVID-19 outbreak first broke in late 2019, I, like everyone else, thought it was the overblown flu. I assumed it would be like the SARS outbreak in 2003 and 2004, limited mostly to Asian countries. At the urging of my aunties in Taiwan, I canceled my yearly summer trip to Taiwan with my four kids. After all, my family never could have imagined that Taiwan would be safer than the United States. The death toll from COVID-19 in Taiwan is 9 (as of February 12, 2021) whereas that of the United States is approaching half a million.
My unmitigated arrogance is now chastened.
But even then, I was afraid. Not of the coronavirus, which was mostly an inconvenience to my summer plans. I was afraid because I knew — I knew the Asian American community would soon experience an uptick in anti-Asian racism and that Asian businesses would suffer disproportionately just as we did during the SARS outbreak.
We would endure intense media scrutiny, as if Asians were some disgusting insect or animal species — our humanity questioned indirectly via slick news videos highlighting our different cultural and food practices, presenting us as “bat-eaters” and a backwards, inferior people still going to unsanitary wet markets. White people, emboldened by Trump’s outright racism, would harass Asian Americans with impunity.
But most of all, there would be violence. So much anti-Asian violence.
Spike in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes
In the past few weeks, there have been more than 20 attacks on Asians — especially against our most vulnerable members. The attacks have concentrated on our elderly, our women, our enclaves with high poverty levels, and our small business owners in areas with the highest loss of business.
Despite anti-Asian assaults escalating since March 2020, when fears of the coronavirus stoked barely hidden anti-Asian racism to the forefront, the white media has barely covered it until now — and likely only because Asian American celebrities like Daniel Dae Kim, Daniel Wu, and Lisa Ling have been talking about it. (More on this later.)
Between March and August 2020, Stop AAPI Hate received over 2,583 nationwide reports of anti-Asian motivated crimes. The United Nations issued a report in August 2020 that found more than 1,800 anti-Asian racist incidents in America for the eight weeks between March to May 2020. Back in September 2020, according to NYPD data, anti-Asian crimes surged 1900% in 2020 — with 20 incidents in the front half of 2020 versus 1 in all of 2019.
This, of course, has rightly enraged and galvanized the Asian American communities. It reminded us that America sees us as an invading horde, a Yellow Peril — facts many of the Asian Americans who had the privilege to pretend violence didn’t exist ignored — because honestly, how else are we to survive in this fucking country?
Here’s the thing: anti-Asian racism and violence is not new. Scapegoating Asian Americans is not new.
It didn’t start when Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, was pushed and killed in San Francisco on January 28, 2021, or when a 91-year-old Chinese man in Oakland’s Chinatown was shoved to the ground three days later, or when a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed across the face while riding the New York subway on February 3. It didn’t start with Vincent Chin, the 27-year-old Chinese American man who, in 1982 Detroit, was slain in a hate crime by two white autoworkers. The white men were sentenced to three years probation, a $3,000 fine, and served zero days in prison. It didn’t start in the Exeter and Watsonville, Calif. anti-Filipino riots in 1929 and 1930. It didn’t even start with the Chinese Massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles, where 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants were lynched by a mob.
White people, stop making Asian Americans your wedge against Black people
You know what we don’t need, though? We don’t need white people like Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf pitting Asian American communities against Black communities. Thankfully the Asian and Black activists are calling bullshit. This is peak white behavior — akin to taking advantage of Chinese workers fleeing poverty in China instead of paying wages to newly emancipated Black people after the American Civil War or weaponizing the Model Minority Myth to minimize the struggles Black people experience due to the systemic racism of the U.S.
Because white supremacy assumes all Asians are the same and interchangeable with one another, the resulting Sinophobia from these actions and policies impacted and continues to impact communities that aren’t Chinese. In addition, Black, Brown, and Muslim Asians have to deal with a whole other level of discrimination, so even if Sinophobia doesn’t hit them, their communities still struggle not only with Islamophobia and colorism, but Orientalization, too.
Asian Americans, remember the real enemy: white supremacy
While we’re at it, we Asian Americans need to stop buying into the dangerous anti-Black propaganda white America wants to sell us. We don’t need Asian American celebrities offering $25,000 rewards — aka bounties — to anyone who could offer information identifying the person who assaulted the 91-year-old Chinese man in Oakland Chinatown.
In case people did not know, the attacker was a Black man — and though the actors likely thought they were doing a good thing, given the history of bounties and how they have been used as an excuse to harass and harm Black and Indigenous people, this action would actively harm the Black community. There is so much more nuance to the situation of a Korean American man offering a reward to hunt down a Black man — especially if we take into account the relations between the Korean American and Black communities in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising.
Furthermore, the spate of Asian Americans demanding other minority groups — especially Black communities — speak up and out in solidarity is ridiculous. (This goes doubly for the Asian Americans doxxing Asian American women and activists who are taking an intersectional and cooperative approach.)
Perhaps instead of opportunistically capitalizing on Black activism and all their work and labor, Asian Americans should properly put the onus upon white America and the systems and policies reinforcing white supremacy and anti-Blackness — of which many Asian Americans benefit from white adjacency and adhering to the Model Minority Myth.
Asian Americans end up being targeted because people assume Asians are rich thanks to narratives like “Bling Empire,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and selective immigration policies that favored immigrants who were already doctors, engineers, and professionals.
Asian enclaves suffer from gentrification, poverty, the housing crisis, and food insecurity — all resulting from racist policies just like those of Black communities. The scarcity mentality that the Model Minority Myth pushes forces us to fight each other for the leavings of white people while they own the buildings, drive up rent, and price our families out.
If we want Asian Americans to thrive — then we must eradicate the root of our suffering — and that is white supremacy.
How can we support the Asian American community
For those who want to support and give to the Asian American community, here are some actions you can consider:
Support local and community organizations
Find your local and Asian American community organizations and donate time or money. Read the resources they provide and find out how you can plug in and be of greatest help.
Read multiple accounts and points of view
Don’t read one or two pieces by Asian Americans and call it a day. Search for multiple takes from within the community because we are not a monolith. There are so many nuanced analyses on the internet such as: why celebrities offering rewards takes away community agency, why Asian Americans consistently respond to anti-Asian violence with such limited scope, why demanding more Asian American representation doesn’t fix anything, or even a quick and dirty breakdown of the falseness of a racism binary and how Asian Americans fit.
Bone up on Asian American history — and Black history
If you don’t know where you come from, can you ever understand where you are or where you’re going? Context matters. Our history in America matters. We are taught a whitewashed version of history in school and it allows us to be easily fooled and tricked into vying for white adjacency, propagating anti-Blackness, and preventing us all from living justly. We rob ourselves — regardless of race and ethnicity. Knowing the truth of our shared histories allows us to move forward in truth, justice, and compassion.