By David M. Greenwald
Last summer, friends of mine, who a decade ago adopted a girl from China, explained that they had to leave their church because the harassment against them and their daughter grew so bad. Since the rise of the pandemic and the blame put—especially by the former president—on China, anti-Asian racist incidents have been on the rise, and now it has itself reach epidemic proportions.
Many of the attacks have been located in the Bay Area. A particularly disturbing video surfaced showing a 91-year-old man pushed from behind and landing on his face on the street in the Chinatown neighborhood of Oakland.
This prompted Vice President Kamala Harris to speak out.
“Hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants have skyrocketed during the pandemic. That’s why our Administration has taken actions to address these xenophobic attacks,” she said. “We must continue to commit ourselves to combating racism and discrimination.”
In another video, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee went for a morning walk in his San Francisco neighborhood. Footage captured a man running at him full speed, smashing his body to the pavement. He died of his injuries just two days later. A 19-year-old has been charged with murder in that case.
“These attacks taking place in the Bay Area are part of a larger trend of anti-Asian American/Pacific Islander hate brought on in many ways by COVID-19, as well as some of the xenophobic policies and racist rhetoric that were pushed forward by the prior administration,” says Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, a coalition of California community-based groups.
According to a story in NPR, there have been more than two dozen assaults and robberies in the Bay Area, which mirror a national rise in hate crimes against older Asian Americans during the pandemic.
Kulkarni’s group has documented over 3000 incidents of anti-Asian hate across most of the country from March to December 2020.
“And roughly 7 to 8% of those, unfortunately, come from elders in our community who have experienced incidents, not unlike the ones that have taken place in recent days,” Kulkarni says.
The New York Times yesterday reports “he attacks quickly, reinvigorated simmering outrage, fear and hurt over a wave of anti-Asian violence and harassment that community leaders say was spurred earlier in the pandemic by the rhetoric of former President Donald J. Trump, who insisted on calling the coronavirus ‘the China virus’ or the ‘Kung Flu.’”
The Times talks to Carl Chan, the president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, who says he has tallied more than 20 assaults over the past two weeks in Oakland’s Chinatown alone—but says most are not reported.
Chan told the Times, “Our seniors are afraid to walk their own streets.”
This week the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus issued a strong statement condemning the surge of anti-Asian hate crimes.
“The recent surge in hate crimes targeting innocent Asian and Pacific Islander Americans is sickening, and the API Caucus condemns these cowardly attacks,” they said. “Since the start of the pandemic, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have felt the brunt of the previous president’s racist rhetoric, which wrongly associated the virus with a single race of people and then stood back as API citizens fell victim to thousands of incidents of discrimination and violence.
“The last several weeks have shown that the problem is only getting worse, as women and seniors have especially become targeted for assaults, vandalism, verbal harassment, denial of access to services and public spaces, and even deadly violence.
“Our most vulnerable residents are under attack and this is a national emergency. We appreciate President Biden’s executive order calling for greater protections for the API community as a result of racism and xenophobia linked to the pandemic, and we thank those who stand in solidarity with the API community.
“But it is not enough to simply disavow racism, xenophobia, and violence. We must call attention to these injustices and protect one another. This dark chapter in American history is a moment when accountability and action are required to bring about justice and peace.”
A multi-author published study tracked the emergences of Sinophobic behavior on the web during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and found “the Web is being exploited for the dissemination of potentially harmful and disturbing content, such as the spread of conspiracy theories and hateful speech towards specific ethnic groups, in particular towards Chinese people since COVID-19 is believed to have originated from China.”
Among their main findings, “We find a rise in discussions related to China and Chinese people on Twitter and 4chan’s /pol/ after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we observe a rise in the use of specific Sinophobic slurs, primarily on /pol/ and to a lesser extent on Twitter.”
The Queens Chronicle article published in September found that anti-Asian hate crime had jumped 1900 percent during the pandemic in New York.
“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Asian Americans have been forced to endure demeaning and disgusting acts of bigotry and hate, consisting of everything from verbal assaults to physical attacks,” said NY Representative Grace Meng in a statement following the passage of a resolution.
Will it help that the President in office now is attempting to calm rather than gaslight problem?
In January, President Biden issued a memorandum condemning and combating racism.
“The Federal Government must recognize that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin,” the memo read.
“Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons,” it continued. “These actions defied the best practices and guidelines of public health officials and have caused significant harm to AAPI families and communities that must be addressed.”
Compare that to language used by former President Trump when he repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as “kung flu,” much to the delight of his audience in Arizona last June.
“Wuhan. Wuhan was catching on, coronavirus, kung flu,” he said, repeating it as the crowd roared. “I could give you many, many names. Some people call it the Chinese flu, the China flu, they call it the China.”
Wrote the Washington Post: “Trump drew criticism after he used the racially insensitive moniker to describe the coronavirus at a campaign rally in Tulsa on Saturday night — his first since the outbreak largely shut down the country.”
At his rally, he downplayed the virus while saying, “I can name kung flu, I can name 19 different versions of names. Many call it a virus, which it is. Many call it a flu, what (is the) difference?”
In a nutshell that statement embodies the problems we are still facing, attempting to contain COVID and combat a slew of anti-Asian hate crimes.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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