On March 16, eight people were shot dead in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian American. While this news may seem shocking and out-of-the-blue, anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise for the past year and continue to increase as a result of xenophobic rhetoric related to the pandemic. However, anti-Asian sentiment is not new in America and, in fact, has a very long and important history.
Starting in the 1800s, Asian immigrants migrated to the U.S. and began working for lower wages, earning the rage of their white counterparts. This resulted in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, banning Chinese people from migrating to the U.S. unless they intended to open a restaurant. While immigration continued, this act prevented the naturalization of Chinese Americans and targeted long-term residents.
Often, racial tensions broke out in violence as white vigilantes took it upon themselves to get rid of Chinese Americans, similar to their modern descendants. In an event similar to that of March 16, white mine workers murdered 28 Chinese immigrants in 1885. The results of such exclusionary policy can be seen as communities grew to become segregated. Even today, less than 10% of Chinese Americans are able to trace their lineage back three generations.
Later, during World War II, the American government forced at least 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps in which they were looked upon and treated as prisoners. Although many of these prisoners had been born and raised in America, the government failed to see their American heritage and only associated them with their Japanese ancestry. This has been a prominent issue for many Asian Americans who often are treated as perpetual foreigners in America, even if they have lived here for generations.
As a result of the internment, thousands of American citizens had their families, property and communities stripped from them. Even after their eventual release, Japanese Americans had lost over 75% of their property and were often unable to recover financially.
The American government has historically capitalized upon already existing anti-Asian sentiment. In the 1980s, President Reagan blamed Japanese competition for America’s failing manufacturing industry. Similarly to today, this provoked violence against Asian Americans. For example, a young man named Vincent Chin was murdered by unemployed white supremacists.
And now, former President Donald Trump has exacerbated existing anti-Asian sentiments with his xenophobic and racist rhetoric regarding COVID-19. Since March 2020, Trump has publicly branded the pandemic as the “China Virus” or “Wuhan Flu,” placing a target on the backs of Asian Americans. Both Trump and many GOP officials continue to use this term on social media and in press conferences despite its horrifying consequences.
The numbers speak for themselves. Just in the past year, over 3,800 incidents of hate or harassment have been reported in the U.S., according to an organization called “Stop AAPI Hate.” This marks nearly a 150% increase from the previous year. New York City saw an 883% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year.
The main targets of anti-Asian violence include women and the elderly. While verbal harassment makes up almost 70% of these incidents, violent attacks on the elderly have gained the attention of many young activists on social media. Footage of the violent murder of an 84-year-old man, Victor Ratanapakde, was shared across social media platforms.
Outraged activists have since taken to the streets, demanding change and justice. Large-scale marches have occurred in many major American cities, including Atlanta, and the hashtag “#StopAsianHate” has been shared over 365,000 times on Instagram. Similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Stop Asian Hate movement has made great strides through peaceful protests and social media use.
The Biden administration has given Asian Americans and their allies a glimmer of hope as the President announced six actions in response to recent events. These actions include increasing funding for AAPI survivors and launching federal projects to celebrate the achievements of Asian Americans.