In the last year, Asians and Asian Americans have suffered from a reported surge in hate incidents in the U.S. This disturbing trend seems to stem from some level of “blame” associated with the COVID-19 pandemic which began in China, and the taunting finger-pointing and name-calling that has been shared widely as the dreaded virus spread around the world. In addition, the general deterioration in relations between China and the U.S. in recent years over a variety of economic, political and human rights issues probably adds fuel to the fire.
The terms “Asian” and “Asian American” are often used imprecisely, because in current usage they usually refer to people who directly or indirectly come from East Asia, Southeast Asia or South Asia, but excludes those who come from Central Asia, West Asia, and North Asia. In this case, due to the impact of COVID-19 and tensions with China, the uptick in animus seems to be directed against East Asians, especially Chinese, and perhaps Southeast Asians to a lesser extent.
The pandemic has put us all on edge. But there is absolutely no excuse for the transfer of blame for the virus or anything associated with it to our Asian American community generally, or to elderly Asian Americans who have been attacked while walking through the streets of several major metropolitan U.S. cities.
It makes no sense. But reading the reports and hearing the disquieting stories of the Asian American victims makes it real. And for our community, the stories are disturbingly familiar.
In a recent article in The Washington Post, Jeff Chang described the thinking behind epithets like “China virus” and “Kung flu” as the result of “the twisted logic that connects two opposed, infernal ideas: that Asians and Asian Americans are impure and inferior — and if not stopped, they will conquer our world.” Disturbing, indeed. Replace “Asian” and “Asian American” with “Jew,” and long-lived and reviled anti-Semitic canards are brought back in full color. Quite simply, blaming a Chinese American grandmother in New York City for the spread of the coronavirus is not much different from believing that your grandmother has control of Jewish space lasers.
During the past few years, we have seen a distressing reawakening of aggression and hate crimes against minorities, including a serious uptick in anti-Semitic activity. Indeed, after the massacre at the Tree of Life building, we have experienced an outbreak of physical anti-Semitic attacks, including a spate of attacks against haredi Jews in the New York area, who, like Asian Americans, are relatively easy to pick out by sight. In general those anti-Semitic attacks which were not lethal garnered relatively little coverage in the general media, just as had been with the case with Asian Americans prior to the killings in Atlanta.
Our sense of complacency has been disrupted. As the poisonous infection of hate grows, other vulnerable communities are inevitably targeted. Suddenly, our nation of immigrants transforms into a nation of scapegoats, as we fall victim to a rising blame culture and the politics of anger.
We can do better, and we must. We need to stop the hate and embrace the hated. Our Asian American friends have done nothing wrong. Yet they have suffered a disturbing history of discrimination over the years, including anti-Chinese immigration laws and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Today’s threats and violence are unfortunately nothing new — the animosity and hate simply never went away. And now, they are simply rearing their ugly heads, again.
We urge our community to see the recent threats and attacks on Asian Americans as a wake-up call. This is our opportunity to reach out to our neighbors and to give them comfort, support and empathy. That is the way coalitions of caring and relationships of trust are built.
Let’s make clear to our Asian American neighbors that they can count on us. We have certainly appreciated their support when Jews have been the subject of attacks, including here in Pittsburgh after 10/27. But beyond that, it is simply the right thing to do. PJC