The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a rise in anti-Asian racism. Racism against Asians is more or less normalized in Western society. Many societies are inherently xenophobic, but the pandemic further exacerbated it. As many world leaders blamed COVID-19 on Asia, citizens have followed suit and launched hate crimes against the Asian community. For more than a year, people of Asian descent around the world have been subject to a multitude of racist attacks – some of them online, verbal, and physical. Although there have been efforts by authorities to quell racism, the number of hate crimes has not died down and is still rising.
Since February 2020, Asians have been the target of xenophobic attacks and hate speech not only in the West but all around the world. Hate crimes take place against Asians in public just about anywhere – schools, public transport, stores, malls, etc. They are called slurs, spit on, shoved, pushed around, slashed, and attacked. The fact that the coronavirus originated in China gave people the problematic impression that all Asians were carriers of the disease. Even places related to Asian culture or heritage, or businesses owned by Asians, are targets of hate crimes and vandalism. By late April, Asian-American organizations stated that they had received almost 1500 reports of racist incidents. Many more go unreported and are also happening in other continents. Going out just to run errands or for a walk has become more dangerous for any person of Asian descent. People who wear masks for the sake of containing the spread of the coronavirus are also taunted in public, specifically by those who refuse to wear a mask. The world has become more unsafe for Asians due to the pandemic. This has in turn caused their mental health to decline and suffer, amidst all the chaos.
Instead of making efforts to prevent the racist incidents, many government leaders added fuel to the fire by encouraging hate crimes with anti-Asian rhetoric. Diplomatic relations between China and Western countries are at an all-time low. As such, mass media is more nationalistic than ever. Former US President Donald Trump called COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu”, which just exacerbates the situation by provoking racist incidents. By doing so, his supporters followed suit by launching violent attacks on Asians. Government leaders are also taking advantage of this situation by elevating anti-immigrant, white supremacist, ultra-nationalist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric deepening the divide between different groups in society.
In the past few months, there has been a stark increase in hate crimes against older members of the Asian community. This is particularly problematic because the elderly are more defenseless and are at higher risk of danger. They are unable to fight back and defend themselves, so the impact of hate crimes is bound to be more severe. All around North America, there have been more reported cases of hate crimes against the elderly – in California’s Bay Area, a 71-year-old woman was shoved to the ground with her purse stolen, a 91-year-old man was violently shoved in Oakland, a Thai-American man in New York was knocked over while he was out for a walk and died from a severe head injury – the list seems endless. It is extremely difficult for senior citizens to go out in public without putting their lives at risk.
Nevertheless, many governments, institutions, and companies are standing up against hate crimes and making efforts to lessen them. In mid-February 2021, Nike, Converse, NBC, and many other brands posted videos and photos on their social media platforms condemning racism and calling for the end of hate crimes, with the hashtag #StopAsianHate. The fact that many big companies are acknowledging the problem and standing in solidarity with the Asian community is reassuring and is certainly a step in the right direction. In August 2020, the New York Police Department created a task force, made of Asian American officers, specifically to combat discrimination and hate crimes against Asians. More recently, President Joe Biden signed a memorandum condemning racism against the AAPI community. It urges the attorney general to work with local agencies to expand investigations and find ways to prevent hate crimes. More efforts still need to be taken to discourage hate crimes and advocate for harmony instead.
With the pandemic still raging on in 2021, it seems like hate crimes against the Asian community will continue to rise. Despite this, the support within the Asian community is stronger than ever. Asians and also allies are doing everything they can to stand in solidarity and to shed light on this issue and discourage racist acts. As more people speak out against it, there is hope that fewer hate crimes take place and the Asian community can live life peacefully, without being threatened or at risk.
Feature Image: STEVEN SEENE/AP