Asian American and Pacific Islander hate crimes must be addressed

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Lindsey Rodman

Opinion Editor Brianna Tang writes about the importance of acknowledging, being informed about, and advocating against racism towards Asian Americans.

By Brianna Tang, Algonquin Regional High School

When I think about the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I think of the struggling Chinatown businesses and devastating hate crimes committed towards Asian American elders as a result of our country’s blatant sinophobia. It’s been a full year since then, and while I would like to think that the hate crimes have stopped by now, they have actually increased by 1,900%. 

The number 1,900% is shockingly high, but what’s worse is that this number is likely much lower than the true statistic. I was listening to a Clubhouse conversation last month with ABC7 San Francisco reporter Dion Lim, and she said that her team has been overwhelmed with reports to the point that they can’t even handle them all and have to choose the ones to report. Plus, many of the attacks that happen go unreported because it’s unclear where to report them or victims don’t want to report the incident because of cultural barriers.

If you enjoy the benefits of Asian culture such as food or entertainment, then you should be equally interested in the safety and well-being of Asian American people. ”

— Brianna Tang, Opinion Editor

While the attacks have been centralized in the Bay Area, there have also been many reported attacks in New York City, Texas and Pennsylvania. Last month, I saw that two Asian American elders were robbed in Quincy Massachusetts which unfortunately brought this issue closer to us. 

Each day that passes, I feel more hopeless about what we can do and if the hate crimes will ever stop. On Feb. 25, an Asian American man was stabbed in the back with a butcher knife in New York’s Chinatown, and that same day, an elderly Asian American women pizza shop owner in Pennsylvania was brutally beaten by thieves. On March 16, a series of mass shootings occurred at three spas and massage parlors in Atlanta resulting in eight people killed, six of which were Asian women. On March 20, a 19-year old Asian girl was shot in the face in San Francisco, and on March 26, an 84-year old Asian elder was brutally kicked out of his seated walker while waiting for the bus. 

Despite Asian massage parlors being targeted and six Asian women being killed in Atlanta, authorities refused to acknowledge that it was a racially motivated hate crime and instead said it was due to the suspect’s “sex addiction”.  I’m glad that media coverage and awareness have increased, but there needs to be more direct action and accountability when it comes to hate crimes, especially by law enforcement and politicians. For instance, the man who killed 84 year old Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco back in January was recently described by a district attorney for having “some sort of temper tantrum” which makes absolutely no sense as an excuse for unprovokedly murdering another person, especially an elderly person. 

I am tired and devastated each time I see another reported attack, and I try my best to stay informed about what community organizers are doing. However, I have also reflected more on our countries sinophobia and xenophobia. In all the years that we have been in school taking history and literature classes, we have still never properly learned about Asian and Asian American history, especially the incredibly racist U.S. policies and propaganda such as the Japanese concentration camps during WWII and the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 that have demonized Asian Americans since the Chinese Immigration Act of 1882. Today, U.S. media is still demonizing China through the Xinjiang “concentration camps” without substantial evidence or visiting the camps for themselves. If people are so willing to criticize China’s humanitarian problems, they should at least care about the Asian lives within their own country.

I think that the term “Orientalism”, established by author Edward Said, largely captures the problem with how the West views Eastern countries. At the most basic level, “Orientalism” is the way that the West, especially the United States, has distorted the East by making Eastern countries seem exotic, uncivilized, and even dangerous. As seen by the massage parlor shootings, these attacks aren’t just about anti-Asian hate. They’re also motivated by fetishization, misogyny, colonialism, and erasure of Asian identity and the working class. 

There are many industries in the United States that like to profit off the distortion of Asian culture. Some of the examples that I immediately think of are the beauty industry profiting off Korean beauty trends (always a few years late), the fashion industry ripping off traditional Chinese clothing for an “exotic” appeal and the food industry hiring white chefs to make watered-down “better than takeout” recipes. While these examples don’t capture the complexity of xenophobia, it is still important that we make conscious efforts to recognize the result of decades of unaddressed racism. 

Sometimes I wonder if the reason why many people aren’t addressing the hate crimes is actually because they don’t know about the issue (due to less media coverage), or because Asian Americans are still seen as a “successful model minority” monolith. Plus, in many communities such as Algonquin, we feel sheltered and disconnected from these tragedies. While I don’t think it’s anyone’s responsibility to help the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community, it is the bare minimum to acknowledge that Asian American lives are at risk because of this country’s racism, sinophobia, and xenophobia. If you enjoy the benefits of Asian culture such as food or entertainment, then you should be equally interested in the safety and well-being of Asian American people. 

This story was originally published on The Harbinger on March 28, 2021.