Opinion: Asian Hate Needs To Stop

Anti-Asian hate crimes surge amidst pandemic


Photo by Jason Leung

Protestors stand against anti-Asian hate and violence. In light of increasing violence against Asians in America, many more protests have continued to take place.

Before 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan  could follow through on her dreams of traveling the world with her daughter, her life was taken from her.

On March 16, she was among seven other people who were murdered in shootings at three spas in Atlanta, Georgia. Six of the people killed were Asian women, yet the shootings have not been labeled as a hate crime. Not only that, Capt. Jay Baker claimed the shooter was “having a really bad day”, a weak justification for the murders that occurred and the lives lost.

Incidents like these are not a new occurrence within the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, community. These stories follow a long, brutal history of racism and violence against them in this country.

Stop AAPI Hate is a database formed at the beginning of the pandemic to report and respond to worsening racial violence in the U.S. Between March 19 and Dec. 31 of 2020 they have received over 2800 reports of anti-Asian violence and discrimination.

Many members of the Asian American community have connected these recent surges in violence to xenophobic rhetoric spread by social media users, including former President Donald Trump. His repeated reference to the coronavirus as the “China Virus” and the “Kung Flu” placed blame on China. Remarks like these have fueled some of the recent aggression towards Asian Americans.

This type of rhetoric has enabled an environment for xenophobic stereotypes like the “perpetual foreigner” to thrive. Perpetual foreigners are considered by native people to be foreigners despite having lived in the same country for generations.

Some of the earliest examples of racism against the Asian American community dates back as far as the mid-1800s in the People v. Hall case. This case involved the murder of a Chinese immigrant Ling Sing, who was shot and killed by George Hall. The witness’ testimony was rejected because they were also Asian. In the 1850s, there were many Chinese immigrants coming to the U.S. to work in the mining and railroad industries. These were very dangerous and low-wage jobs with high demands.

According to the Washington Post, the racist stereotype of “Asians stealing white jobs”  immediately began taking root. The California Supreme Court ruled in 1854, in the People v. Hall case that people of Asian descent would not be able to testify against a white person in court. This allowed it to be incredibly easy for a white person to escape any punishment for anti-Asian violence.

A more well-known example of racism against the Asian American community is the Chinese Exclusion Act. With this act, Americans used Asians as scapegoats for economic issues in the 1870’s. Many workers in the U.S. protested the number of Chinese immigrants coming to take low-wage jobs, calling them “cheap slaves.” Because of this, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which put a ban on Chinese immigration for 20 years. The act also denied any citizenship to Chinese immigrants who were already here.

This act was vetoed by President Chester A. Arthur, but he signed an altered version which still held a ban of 10 years. This was the first law that placed a ban on immigration in the United States. It wasn’t until 60 years later, in 1943, that it was repealed.

There have been many other examples of violence, discrimination and hate towards Asians in America, and recent cases have brought more attention to this issue.

The Atlanta shootings resulted in the death of eight people, and six Asian-Americans. Multiple spas in the Atlanta area were attacked, yet the shooter’s motive is unclear. The shooter, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, claimed the spas were a “temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Long also had what he considered to be a ‘sex addiction,’ and he claimed his murders of six Asian women were not racially motivated.

Long’s attempts at justification for the shootings have multiple issues, and the reasoning he used can date back to early xenophobia, especially the fetishization of Asian women in America.

In March and February of last year, Stop AAPI Hate observed that Asian women reported 2.3 times more hate incidents than men. If racism and sexism are ignored in the conversation of this shooting, the long history of hypersexualization and fetishization of Asian women in the U.S. goes unspoken.

Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociology professor at Biola University specializes in ethnicity and race in the media. In an interview with NPR, she explained some of the most common sexual stereotypes against Asian women that are still very present today.

“Submissive” is a big one. “Temptresses,” “exotic lotus flowers,” all of these stereotypes have been largely portrayed in the media, and continue to impact Asian women. Actress Lucy Liu has often been portrayed as a “dragon lady” – a cold merciless sexual temptation for men – in movies like Kill Bill or Charlie’s Angels. The list goes on, and there have been so many movies where Asian women are reduced to a joke or a sexual object.

Hollywood has also cast many white actors in caricatured Asian roles and practiced yellowface on many occasions.

Yellowface is a long practiced tradition of Hollywood that has been harmful to Asian Americans and has fed into many stereotypes. This practice dates back to the early 1900s when white actors would darken their skin tone and even pull back their eyes to appear more Asian. They would even get into costumes and villainize and ridicule Asians to entertain the audience.

Movies like Madam Butterfly, The Mask of Fu Manchu and Dragon Seed portrayed stereotypical Asian characters played by white actors. This continued throughout the 1950s and even 60’s in a very popular film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Not long after the iconic opening scene, viewers are introduced to Mr. Yunioshi. He is played by Mickey Rooney, a white actor, and portrayed as a loud buck-toothed man with a thick Asian accent.

Recently, white actors have continued to take Asian roles, although yellowface is rarely seen in movies now. Examples like Ghost in the Shell or Aloha both have white actors playing roles of Asian characters.

The movie adaptation of Ghost in the Shell came out in 2017 and was based on a Japanese manga whose main character is Motoko Kusanagi. In the movie, Scarlett Johansson plays the character, whose name is changed to Major. Hollywood continues to whitewash movies instead of allowing for Asian representation.

All of these examples of stereotypes are harmful and continue to spread through the media, hurting Asian Americans.

So when Robert Aaron Long said he was attempting to eliminate a “temptation” with the murders of Asian women, his words were feeding into a long history of fetishization and hate against Asians, especially Asian women in this country.

There are many ways people have shown support for the Asian American community in light of these events. The family members of those killed in the Atlanta shootings have been raising awareness, and many have started GoFundMe for funeral expenses. As well as supporting them, there are many ways to help, whether it’s spreading awareness, or even donating. Even small changes can have a big impact.

First of all, learn about the history of anti-Asian hate, and reach out to Asian American friends. It’s important to know about the recent surges in anti-Asian hate crimes. In a recent news segment by NBC, Asian American actress Margaret Cho said racism can be unlearned. There are many racist portrayals of Asians in the media, and these have taught harmful stereotypes. Learning about how this has impacted the Asian American community is a good start.

Another way to help is by trying to prevent anti-Asian racism when you see it. Stop AAPI Hate has provided five safety steps to use if you encounter anti-Asian racism.

The first step is prioritizing safety. It is good to assess your surroundings, and leave if you feel unsafe. The second step is to take a deep breath and try to stay calm. Maintaining neutral body language, and limiting eye contact are good ways to try to diffuse a situation. The third step is to speak out if you can in a safe way. Establish boundaries, and denounce the person’s behavior.

The last few steps tie into how others can assist in a situation like this as well, by seeking immediate support through asking bystanders for intervention or help. Lastly, seek emotional support once you feel safe.

A final action that can be taken to help prevent anti-Asian hate crimes is by donating. There are many organizations like Hate Is A Virus, or Asian Americans Advancing Justice to donate to in order to help spread awareness and protect Asian Americans across the country.

All of these are great ways to help the Asian American community, and this is especially important now in a time of a surge in hate crimes. There has been a long history of anti-Asian hate in this country, and it still continues today. We can’t change the past, but we can make a change in the present, and protect Asian lives.