Members of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles and their supporters protest during a news conference March 19 at Berendo Street Baptist Church to denounce hate against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Downtown Magnets High School

Opinion: Speak up against anti-Asian violence and racism

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an increase in violent racism against Asian Americans. Asian Americans have been spat on, beaten, called slurs, and Asian businesses have been vandalized, as reported by the New York Times

Racism against Asian Americans was also a problem on the rise in 2020 because former president Donald Trump blamed Chinese people for causing the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s words like “Kung Flu” were very harmful toward Asian Americans. 

Why is history repeating itself? This surge of anti-Asian American violence is not a new problem — this has been a problem since the 1880s, according to Berkeley News.

During that time, there were over 150 anti-Chinese riots and Chinatowns were burned. Asian people were also blamed for bringing diseases into the United States.

These attacks on Asian Americans need to stop. If we speak up about the problems, violence toward Asian Americans can be reduced. When we speak up, we can educate others about stereotypes like the “model minority” myth and racist ideas like Asian people bringing diseases from their countries into the United States. We can unite to fight against social inequalities. If we continue to ignore the problems Asian Americans face, history will only repeat itself and more people will have to suffer.

The “model minority” myth has historically referred to Asian people as smarter than and better than other people of color. This myth can be very harmful towards Asian people.

In a Learning for Justice article, Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn writes “This myth characterizes Asian Americans as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving.”

This shows that the model minority myth can be used to downplay racism toward Asian Americans and ignores all the hard work they accomplish as individuals.

A myth like this is also harmful because it sets high expectations on Asian Americans. It ignores the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited all migration of Chinese laborers, and Japanese American internment in the 1940s when Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes because of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It suggests that the United States has always been a welcoming place for Asian people in spite of the historic mass oppression against Asian Americans. We can see that this myth ignores all the racism Asian Americans have been through, and it can be harmful to the Asian Americans who are really struggling.

Another way people have been racist to Asian Americans is by using diseases to “justify” xenophobia against them. There is a history of racism against Chinese Americans like with the coronavirus. Chinese people immigrated to the United States in the 1850s during the Gold Rush. When the population grew, people started complaining that Chinese people were stealing jobs from white Americans and that Chinese immigrants were unclean and carried diseases.

As a result of these racist lies was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act — the first immigration law that prohibited an entire ethnicity from entering the United States, according to the Washington Post.

It’s clear that Asian Americans have worked so hard for a long time while having to fight against systemic racism. In 1900, a Chinese American man died, allegedly from the bubonic plague, in San Francisco. This led to San Francisco’s Chinatown being quarantined.

Because of this event, diseases have historically been associated with Asian Americans. In the present day, Chinese Americans have been accused of having the coronavirus which has led to Asian Americans being victims of violent, racist attacks.

In a February 2020 Washington Post article, Marian Liu writes, “The ‘forever foreigner’ stigma means Asian Americans are frequently associated with public health scares.”

Whenever there are diseases around, Asian people endure the racism of being blamed for bringing them into the United States.

Asian Americans also face gendered racism. Asian American men often face harmful stereotypes as being seen as unmanly or agamic, while Asian American women are viewed as exotic, passive, and sexually desirable.

This is a big problem because Asian American men could lose job opportunities if they are seen as unmanly which means they lack strength to do certain tasks. Another way these stereotypes can be so harmful is Asian American women can often experience sexual harassment because they are viewed as exotic and passive.

In a 2015 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, participants ranked Asian men as more employable for a librarian job — a traditionally feminine position — and less employable for a security guard position — a traditionally masculine position — compared with African American and Caucasian men.

A 2018 study in the Asian American Journal of Psychology surveyed Asian American women about their experiences of discrimination. The women surveyed reported that their colleagues, acquaintances and romantic partners had assumptions that they were submissive, exotic and petite, among other harmful stereotypes.

Without a doubt, these stereotypes affect Asian Americans in a negative way which can lead to Asian people losing job opportunities or being sexually harassed.

Some people might argue that Asian Americans are some of the wealthiest people in the United States. The data for income by race in 2020 shows that the average Asian worker earned an annual income of $78,539.86  — the highest average income out of all other racial groups. The data shows the Asian median income was $53,002.

When people see this, they might think that Asian Americans do not struggle as much as people in other racial groups and they have some sort of advantage in life. However, in 2014, Asian Americans had the highest poverty rate of any racial or ethnic group in New York City, according to NYC Opportunity tabulations provided to Urban Institute researchers.

In Asian subgroups, there are large differences in poverty rates, according to the Pew Research Center. As of 2019, Asians are less likely than Americans overall to live in poverty. Of the Asian origin groups Pew analyzed in 2019, most had poverty rates that were as high as or higher than the average in the United States.

The model minority myth is false. Asian Americans do not always have things going their way just because they are part of specific racial group.

If Asian Americans are some of the wealthiest people in America, it does not mean that all Asian people are successful because everybody has their own struggles.

Violence and racism against Asian Americans will not end if we keep ignoring the problems they face.

If we speak up about false information like stereotypes, the model minority myth, and Asians bringing diseases from their countries into the United States, we can inform others about what is really going on.

If you ever see an Asian American person being stereotyped, make sure to inform the person stereotyping them and ask them to do more research about the problems Asian Americans face. Hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islander people can be reported at stopaapihate.org.

In the words of John Adams, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among people.”