by Eliana Shin (’22)| March 29, 2021
“Elderly man pushed to the ground.” “Local business robbed and vandalized.” “Woman left in critical condition after the attack.” I read countless headlines just like these in the last two months alone, all describing acts targeting Asian-Americans. The recent mass shooting in Atlanta killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. While the Asian-American community maintains that this deadly event was an act of racism and misogyny, the motives are still being disputed. However, one thing is undeniable: this horrific event is one among many recent acts of violence and hatred towards Asian-Americans. And this pattern cannot be ignored.
In 2020, the Stop AAPI (Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders) Hate organization received nearly 4,000 reports of anti-Asian violence, which included verbal abuse, robbery, and even physical assault. With these shocking incidents, Americans are finally turning their attention to the spread of a second inflammatory virus: anti-Asian hate.
People in power have an immense influence on public opinion. When politicians use rhetoric like “China virus” or “Kung flu,” they associate COVID-19 with a particular ethnicity, effectively placing the blame on those of Asian descent. Also, fear of the virus creates bias. When these problematic biases are validated and encouraged by public figures, it is no wonder that hostility and hatred are currently at large.
We must recognize that the recent surge in anti-Asian violence is not an unusual trend. Anti-Asian prejudices in America are neither new nor rare. Since their first arrival in the 1800s, Chinese immigrants have faced racial discrimination and violence in all areas of their lives. Xenophobic sentiment incentivized the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and 1924 Immigration Act, which prohibited Asian immigration. American policies and ideologies have discriminated against Asian individuals and communities for centuries.
So why do we struggle to point out these injustices? Why did it take countless racial slurs, attacks, and deaths for us to realize the ongoing struggles of Asian-Americans? It is not a lack of education—we are taught about historic injustices and bigotry in school. Rather, the plight of Asian-Americans is minimized by the model minority myth.
Before 2020, the stigmatization of Asian-Americans involved their perceived privilege rather than the racism they faced. During the 1950s and 1960s, the image of Asian-Americans shifted to portray them as hardworking, dutiful citizens who kept their heads down and never complained. This idea of a model minority serves to validate the American Dream through real-life success stories and works to pit minorities against each other, notably Asian-Americans and African Americans. The model minority myth is flawed in its failure to recognize that individual groups within the Asian-American community experience varying levels of success, and that their circumstances cannot be compared to those of African Americans. This endorsement of one minority in the name of disparaging another also plays a significant role in the lack of unity among people of color.
COVID-19 does not discriminate, but people do. A year ago, my grandmother feared contracting the virus. Now, she fears being attacked because her entire race is unfairly shouldering the blame for the pandemic’s effects. As a young Asian-American, I also fear the anti-Asian sentiment most of all. I have faith in eventual COVID-19 relief efforts and effective vaccine distributions, but I anticipate that xenophobia and anti-Asian racism will linger for much longer than the virus. It is time to recognize anti-Asian hate for what it is: the culmination of historical discrimination and modern racism.