Lunar New Year is a celebratory time for many Asian American cultures. Unfortunately, this year’s attention to festivities pivoted as we saw anti-Asian rhetoric and attacks across the country. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began surfacing last March, Stop AAPI Hate has recorded over 3,000 accounts of anti-Asian hate incidents in 2020, from physical assaults to verbal harassment. More recently, we’ve seen headlines of attacks including: Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, who died after being shoved onto the ground in San Francisco; Angelo Quinto, 30, who died after police knelt on his neck for 5 minutes in Antioch, California; and Christian Hall, 19, who died after being shot by police while he was having a mental health crisis in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. Countless physical attacks have led to hospitalizations in Asian communities around the world, yet many have gone unreported in mainstream media.
Racism against the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the U.S. is not a new revelation. AAPI communities have been targeted as the scapegoat for disease long before the COVID-19 pandemic, with a deeply rooted history of being characterized as perpetual foreigners. There are innumerable stories of PTSD after fleeing war-torn homes from Southeast Asia, stories of hostility and Islamophobia after the 9/11 attacks, stories of alienation from the Japanese internment during World War 2, stories of helplessness from Filipinos after mass eviction from the International Hotel in San Francisco, and countless other events that are rarely included in American history. So while it is convenient to characterize the current violence as a “new wave” or “recent uptick,” we must not forget that this violence against the Asian community in America is, in fact, not new at all – it is a continuation of the greater historical pattern of how America has cast the experience of Asians as perpetually foreign, insignificant and overall, unwelcome.
However, the Asian American experience does not occur in a vacuum. Certain myths and stereotypes about Asian people (e.g., hardworking, smart, passive) exist in part due to the legacy of racist policies that allowed a limited and curated number of highly educated Asian people into the country. In the face of increasing racial tension in the sixties, white scholars exploited these cherry-picked characteristics to form what is now known as the “model minority myth.” This stereotype, created by white people, specifically aimed to place the Asian American community at odds with the Black community. By deceptively attributing the success of Asian Americans to their own work ethic and assimilative tendencies, policymakers and politicians vilified the Black community for being unable to achieve the same levels of success as their stereotyped Asian counterparts, and thus, placed the blame for their social circumstances on Black people.
The false dichotomy of Asian and Black (mis)conceptions continues to exist today, and is exacerbated by the recent attacks against AAPI individuals, which have led to attempts to demonize Black communities. It has led many Asian Americans to blame Black stereotypes and call for more policing. And therein lies the insidious workings of white supremacy: through decades of careful manipulation and crafting of racist conceptions of both Asian and Black people, white supremacy has positioned the Asian community as its proxy for anti-Blackness.
While we call for accountability for the violence against our community, anti-Blackness should play no role in the solutions we look for. Calls for arrests and increased policing of our communities will only serve to hurt Black and Brown people, and again, places the concerns of AAPI people at odds with the larger movement for Black lives.
If we don’t look to law enforcement to protect our community, what other options do we have? Surprisingly, quite a few. In the wake of the numerous attacks against AAPI people, local community organizers in some cities have stepped up to organize volunteer “chaperone” services for their elderly Asian community members. Initiatives like these pair community volunteers with Asian community members that requested a “chaperone” as they carry out errands like grocery shopping. Rallies in solidarity against AAPI violence have also taken place in cities around the country, demonstrating support across intersecting communities. Additionally, organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice have begun hosting bystander intervention trainings to inform people what to do in case they encounter or witness racial harassment or assault of another person.
Community initiatives like these, in conjunction with efforts to uplift various other issues endemic to the Asian population (e.g., data-disaggregation, accurate and in-depth research regarding AAPI communities, etc.) to our policymakers can and should be the kinds of solutions we look to when it comes to protecting our communities. By falling back on anti-Black policing rhetoric to address our concerns, we only do more harm to both the Asian community and the Black community, while the white supremacist agenda remains comfortably in its place.