The surge in anti-Asian bullying, shunning and assaults across the country should shame us all.
Who shoves an 84-year-old to the ground? Bullies innocent children? Spits on people and calls them names? Slashes their faces? Denigrates an entire segment of society because of the way they look or where their ancestors might have originated?
It’s the perennial shame that has tried to crush the will of Black people, denigrated those who are Hispanic, disparaged Italian and Irish immigrants and dismissed the very people for whom this country is unequivocally their homeland.
The hateful have not spared the LGBTQ community, Muslims, Jews, the poor and any they consider the “other.”
While the nation’s conscience was focused on Black Lives Matter protesters venting outrage at the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of injustice, Asian Americans were enduring a hell of their own. The former president deliberately laid the coronavirus pandemic at their feet, using abhorrent terms that I refuse to repeat.
Words have consequences. The Stop AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Hate Reporting Center – launched “in response to the alarming escalation in xenophobia and bigotry resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic” – put the number of firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate and abuse since March 2020 at nearly 3,800. A vast undercount, it’s believed.
The incidents occurred in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more often than men, the group said. Forty-two percent of the hate incidents were reported by people of Chinese ancestry, the largest group, followed by those of Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino descent.
Small wonder that the Asian community is even more terrified following this week’s violence at three Georgia massage parlors. Of the eight people murdered, six were Asian women. As of Thursday, law enforcement officials had not declared the attacks an anti-Asian crime, but some in the community have not been as reticent.
A reminder, anti-Asian bias is nothing new. Think of the internment camps established during World War II – another time of national crisis – to confine an estimated 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry.
Early in the pandemic, the Racial Equity Anchor Collaborative, a diverse group that includes the NAACP, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Faith in Action, the National Congress of American Indians, UnidosUS and the National Urban League, issued this telling statement:
“We are often reminded of the xenophobic history of our nation,” the group said, pointing to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act as an example. America, it continued, “has always treated people of color and immigrants with suspicion.”
More recently, the coalition of justice and civil rights organizations condemned “in the strongest terms” the surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Others also are expressing their concern. Elizabeth Gelman, executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, is among them, but she also gives us hope that we can be better people.
“It is alarming to witness how xenophobic ideology has led to an increased number of attacks directed at the Asian-American community. Unchallenged racism encourages people to believe that prejudice, discrimination and even attacks on particular groups or types of people are acceptable,” she said in an email.
“Our goal at The Florida Holocaust Museum is to equip the next generation to recognize and reject antisemitism and any other group-based form of intolerance and discrimination. We stand with the Asian-American community.”
And says AAPI, “Our approach recognizes that in order to effectively address anti-Asian racism, we must work to end all forms of structural racism leveled at Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.”
The way I understand it is that we must coalesce against a common enemy. That means those of us who know what it is like to be victimized, to be excluded and scorned, must stop turning against each other. Jealousies must be put aside and we can no longer take refuge in our own silos of belief, race, culture, neighborhoods, professions and exclusive clubs. We must respect the natural reserve of some cultures, the insecurities that come with language barriers and the deep wounds wrought by centuries of racism.
The Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements are examples of people of conscience joining forces across race, culture and belief to fight for a cause. It can be done again.
This week, National Urban League president and CEO Marc H. Morial denounced anti-Asian violence. “Efforts to deflect blame for the pandemic onto a particular ethnicity are wreaking havoc on innocent people,” he said.
“We stand with our Asian-American brothers and sisters, and call on all Americans to reject bigoted and xenophobic sentiment in every aspect of life … In this time of crisis, it’s even more important that we work together and take care of one another.”
That means each one of us taking a stand against hate, wielding the hard-won insight that comes from being discriminated against, worrying about loved ones when they go through the door, of being spoken down to, ignored, and of being feared and afraid.
That’s my cue to bring up Sen. Ron Johnson’s recent interview in which he said he had no reason to be afraid of the Capitol rioters, whom he described as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement.”
On the other hand, he said, “Had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the elections and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”
It’s here that I must make a confession. I wear a mask when I walk in my Pinellas Point neighborhood. Actually, it sits on my chin most of time and is surreptitiously pulled into place when a fellow walker or jogger approaches. The past few weeks, though, as restrictions have eased and masks have been tossed into bonfires, I’ve become a bit fearful of the anti-maskers. That was the case one afternoon when a man came out of a yard that once carried a Trump sign. I immediately went on guard, worried that he would be disapproving, even aggressive.
What did he actually do? He greeted me with a nod. In that was a lesson for me about prejudging and one we should all teach to our children.
And as the repercussions of prejudice and hate assault the Asian community, we must offer our support, honoring them as elders and youth, professionals and restaurant workers, shop owners and manicurists – whoever they are. Or simply as fellow human beings.