COVID-19 changed many things for many people. Suddenly, we knew what it was like to be scared to go outside. We learned what it was like to be separated from our friends and family for indefinite periods of time. We experienced extreme loneliness and isolation. For many of us, this was the first time we had ever gone through something like this. We are the lucky ones.
A History of Racism
For many minorities in the US, these feelings were nothing new. They were simply amplified. Despite being a “melting pot” of cultures, America has developed a tragic relationship with racism and white supremacy. Throughout history, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians have been discriminated against. Police brutality, racial profiling, unjust deportation, slavery, discriminatory laws have sadly become hallmarks of the US’ past and present. Although the country seemed to be moving towards a future that wasn’t clouded by prejudice, the outbreak of Coronavirus and a series of statements made by politicians regarding the connection between COVID-19 and Asia once again sent the US reeling backward.
A Rise in Hate Crimes
For many Asian Americans, this step backward in 2020 proved to be extremely dangerous. The rise in hate crimes towards people of Asian descent has been well-documented by many major media outlets and their reports are harrowing. There are 20 million Asian Americans in the United States and they come from more than 20 countries throughout Asia. Unfortunately, these 20 million Asian Americans have become a scapegoat for Coronavirus and the outcome has proven to be deadly.
In an April 2021 article by the BBC, numerous crimes against elderly Asian-Americans were reported including an 89-year-old Chinese woman being set on fire in New York and an 84-year-old Thai immigrant dying after being pushed to the group. The list of crimes is appalling (you can read the full article here.) Within just 3 months of 2020, 800 hate crimes were reported in California, a state which has historically had a large Asian population. The violence reached a climax (at least, we hope it was the climax) in March 2021 when 8 people were murdered in an apparent hate crime that targeted beauty spas in Atlanta.
Unsurprisingly, this is impacting women and the elderly more than men. In a March 2021 study, Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit organization that has been tracking anti-Asian hate crimes since the pandemic began, reported that there were 3,800 hate crimes reported in 2020 and that 68% of these crimes were against women. The most common crime was being verbally attacked with racial slurs and many of these comments also included examples of sexism. There was also a clear pattern of women being spit on and coughed on in addition to being harassed and threatened.
The Impact on a Community
Although a variety of factors have been attributed to the rise in Asian American hate crimes, the outcome for the victims is the same. They are made to feel unsafe in their own cities, their own homes simply because of their ethnicity. They often feel the need to be extremely vigilant and hyperaware since many of the attacks have been random and unprovoked. Some people feel isolated from a true community and they think that they don’t matter. They may even feel like they always need to be careful, that they will never be accepted since the United States isn’t “their” country.
Small Steps Towards a Better Future
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the world and the increase in hate crimes has been a sad reminder of how much the US still needs to grow. However, the situation has also provided a platform to fight against hate crimes targeting Asian Americans. Although many people may have previously been afraid to speak out, the gravity of the issue has helped many men and women find their voice and they have helped strengthen the movement. Rallies against Asian hate crimes have broken out across the US and donations have increased for non-profit organizations supporting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Politicians have finally begun to act and on April 14th, 2021 the Senate voted to advance legislation that would strengthen federal efforts to address hate crimes directed at Asian-Americans.
How Can You Help?
One of the most important ways to fight racism and prejudice is through education. Learn more about the history of Asian American racism and the US’ problematic history with countries in Asia. Try to gain an understanding of the world around us and how interconnected everything is. Speak up when you hear someone using racial slurs, even if it is in private.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, teach your children everything you have learned. Change starts with just one person at a time and you have the power to help shape the next generation.