When the coronavirus finally reached the United States last spring, Donald Trump made several accusations blaming China for the virus, including referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus,” spurring a storm of xenophobia throughout the country. The United States saw a 150% increase in Asian American hate crimes. On March 17, 2021, a white gunman opened fire on several spa parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, killing eight people total, six of which were Asian women.
Discrimination towards Asians in America did not begin with the pandemic. The patterns present in the hate and violence against Asians come as “the country faces economic, political, and social challenges or crises,” Dr. Ivan Y. Sun, an Asian-American university professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice wrote in an email. He noted the ethnic cleansing that took place during the 19th century when Asian low-labor workers were no longer needed for the rail and mining industries because of the industrial boom. Japanese Americans other unfair and dangerous environments at the hands of white Americans like internment camps during World War II. In the 1980s auto companies in Japan and the United States were in fierce competition. In 1982, two auto workers in Detroit murdered Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man.
“Although Asians have been part of our society for more than 150 years, they continue to suffer from the ‘out-group’ status of being regarded as alien competitors for scarce resources, threats to the existing racial and economic order, and undeserving of the rights and privileges of dominant groups, constituting the principal source of anti-Asian sentiments and violence,” Sun stated in an email.
Stereotypes have been present for a long time. The “model minority myth” (the idea that East Asians exceed in education and serve as a reference for other minorities) and “forever foreigner” (xenophobic sterotype that sees Asians as always being a minority no matter how long they’ve lived in the U.S.) labels along with their history have contributed to dangerous rhetoric that has formed against Asian-Americans.
After the Atlanta spa shooting in March, Korean media outlets spoke to several witnesses who reported that the gunman was shouting “kill all Asians” during his attacks, marking it as a direct hate crime.
Media coverage is an important necessity for troubling times because it’s critical to have access to news from unbiased sources that impacts the way views on situations are shaped. Media outlets have a history of painting people of color in a negative light and often excuse the crimes committed by white people. In Atlanta, the press reported the gunman was “having a bad day,” taking attention away from the tragedy of the shooting. As Sun said, the blame placed on China for coronavirus has heavily influenced rhetoric used against Asian-Americans.
The origin of the coronavirus, Wuhan, China, was used as fuel for the xenophobia that came from media outlets.
“Some media outlets’ rhetoric about the source of the COVID-19 and downplay of racial factors in the Atlanta killings are likely to further stir the discrimination and violence against Asian Americans,” Sun wrote.
“At the beginning of this, it was easy to call that Asian Americans will become scape-goats,” Joe Kim, a Korean-American student at the university says. “Speaking about this before especially when Donald Trump called it the China virus — I truly believe that wasn’t an original thought in his own mind. I think that you hear ‘oh the origin is in China; it’s now Chinese people’s fault,’ and you know, a white, aggressive, racist bigot person generally does not know the difference between a Chinese person and, like, a Korean or Japanese person or anyone who has Asian features at all.”
Trump, described by Kim as being representative of the fascist elements of American society, was a large part in explaining where this dangerous rhetoric could come from, mixed with the unfamiliar and prejudices against cultures that are not one’s own, which Sun also writes about.
“[Donald Trump] who openly called COVID-19 the ‘China virus’ and ‘Kung Flu’ in many press and campaign events, has undoubtedly deepened racial stereotypes and discrimination against Asian-Americans,” Sun wrote.
At a time of coming together, Kim describes this as a very eye-opening moment for this onslaught of hate to come. In a period of mutual aid and doing things for others, there’s still the other side of fascist nationalists who feel victimized by something the whole world has been affected by, and they turn to xenophobia to express this.
The university’s own community had problems with this at the beginning of quarantine, during the summer, when notes were left on cars and doorsteps at several apartment complexes where international students stay, according to a letter from the university. These flyers were targeting Asian-American students, particularly those from China and said things like “Kill Chinese Virus” among other crude remarks.
When the Atlanta shooting happened, it brought up a lot of commentary on how Korean women in families play a big role in Asian-American family dynamics. One of the victim’s sons, Randy Park, described his mom, Hyun Jung Grant, and other Asian mothers as women who lived for their sons. This mother in particular worked and did everything to provide a safe life for her children according to her son.
Kim described the East Asian family as a beating heart and that every part has a purpose in making it work. Mothers and parents play a large role in that, and their mom in particular is very prominent in their life and local community.
“A lot of Korean people do live for their families because Korean culture and a lot of East Asian culture is built on a Confucius principle called filial piety,” Kim says. “The parents are the providers for the family.”
As for a future where hate crimes die out, it will have to come with work and fixing prejudices within each racial community first. Kim mentioned that there’s a huge divide within Eastern Asian cultures because of a lot of deep history between each nationality. With divides from history shaping beliefs between Koreans and Japanese people, or Chinese and Japanese people, bigotry is very present and needs to be worked on to start building a better community for all.
“Controlling hate crimes against any racial/ethnic group is a complex and daunting task that I don’t see a good resolution for soon,” Sun wrote.
Racial divides and racially motivated crimes are an unfortunate part of U.S. history that Asian-Americans have faced. Power systems and stereotypes cause disparities and racial differences amongst people.
“Asian Americans are convenient scapegoats during periods of national duress, moral panics, and social anxieties,” Sun wrote. Asians will continue to be seen as these scapegoats as gradual change happens to fix inequality.