The new rhetoric of hate.

COVID’s latest victims: Asian American racism drastically rises.

by Dylan Lee.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued what they believed to be the best practices for naming new human infectious diseases. They did so in acknowledgement that, after reports on newly-identified human diseases are made public, their name is often hard to change. One condition that the WHO proposed was avoiding the usage of locations in naming prominent viruses. “Terms that should be avoided in disease names include geographic locations,” the organization noted. Ignoring this stipulation, former-president Donald Trump frequently referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu,” excusing his behavior by saying that the virus’s origins may link back to China.

After American rhetoric surrounding COVID-19 became largely politicized and targeted against Asian-Americans, or more specifically, Americans of East-Asian descent, rates of anti-Asian racism and violence expectedly escalated.

A 91-year-old man shoved onto the street. A Filipino man slashed across the face on the subway. A Vietnamese woman robbed of $1,000 intended as gifts to celebrate Lunar New Year. After the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread, Asian-American hate crime rates skyrocketed. More recently, the Asian-American community has seen a terrifying resurgence of hate crimes in their ethnic enclaves all across the country. As the Asian-American community just celebrated Lunar New Year, the welcoming of a new season has been met with a trepidation and fear for their own lives, and for their family.

After COVID-19 developed and spread from China to America, many around the world began to express anti-Chinese, and more broadly, anti-Asian sentiments. In spite of his initial practice, Trump took to Twitter to speak on the issue and say that the Asian-American community is not to blame. “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States,” Trump said. He included that the virus “is not their fault in any way, shape or form.” Many still believe that his rhetoric during the pandemic could be categorized as xenophobia and racist towards Asian Americans.

Joe Biden, within his first week in office, created a memorandum to condemn and combat racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States. The Biden administration cited the rise in hatred against APPI during the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for this policy. “During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric has put Asian-American and Pacific Islander persons, families, communities, and businesses at risk,” their website read.

Asian American businesses and ethnic enclaves were hit hard, facing racist stereotyping and bearing the blame for the effects of the virus. Of course, it was based on nothing but racist stereotyping and ignorance. Large Chinatown communities all across the country, which many families depended on for their livelihood, shuttered and closed down, losing business that were much needed in a time of economic crisis. 

Now in 2021, there was a resurgence of hate- crimes against Asian elders. In the San Francisco Chinatown area, in particular, a Thai elderly man named Vicha Ratanapakdee was shoved to the street from behind, where he died from injuries sustained only days later. The man arrested for this hate crime has also been accused of several other assaults of Asian elders in the Oakland Chinatown area. The Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce president also shared that over 20 attacks on Asians had happened in the second half of December.

 For many Asians, the delayed response to a serious threat on their lives, motivated by racial fears and anger, is a reminder of the neglect and lack of justice they have endured throughout history. Many were reminded of the murder of Vincent Chin, a young Asian-American man in the 80s who was brutally attacked and killed by two white men. Both of the men walked free, without any charges, supported by a system of white supremacy.

To this day, most of the American history curriculum fails to remember and teach about this brutal and extremely significant attack. So these attacks on Asian elders, while not a new form of racism, are part of a larger, more terrifying experience; that racially motivated acts of violence will go unnoticed, ignored, and unrecognized.

Russell Jeung, who helped create, an organization referenced in multiple articles that help report Asian hate crimes, spoke out. He states, “The recent attacks on Asian American elderly have been horrific and deeply felt in our community.

Many activists and Asian-Americans are calling for an end to the lack of attention the media shines on Asian hate crimes. There seems to be a shift in the perspective of Asian-Americans, from submission to the model-minority myth, of docility to protest. In this time of extreme spikes in anti-Asian American hate crimes, many are calling for political action from Congress, along with asking more media outlets to cover these crimes to raise awareness. Racism towards Asian Americans most commonly appears in microaggressions. Whether it is using slurs or referencing common Asian features in a negative tone, Asian-Americans deal with racism in their everyday lives. Some of the issues stem from how Asian Americans are portrayed in the popular media, like how little coverage Andrew Yang was given in his presidential campaign, or the racist depiction of Asian American characters in Hollywood classics, like ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘Sixteen Candles,’ or the white-washing of Asian American roles in movies.

These small acts of racism increased and took a different tone during the pandemic. A stigma appeared surrounding Asian Americans, making people believe that they had something to do with the virus or they were more likely to be carriers of it. These will have long-lasting effects in the US and have not yet been fully addressed.

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