Exposing Another Ignored Rift Within the System: Anti-Asian Hate

By: Meghan Patero
Associate Editor, Vol. 26

On March 11, 2021, President Biden recognized the struggles the entire nation has grappled with because of COVID-19 by delivering his first prime time address of his presidency.[1] Appropriately, much focus was dedicated to the new COVID-19 relief package as one of the largest economic rescue packages in US history and eligibility for vaccination in light of the increasing supply in vaccines.[2] However, one concern President Biden brought up should and needs to be confronted if a full recovery from the consequences of COVID-19 is to be successful.

During his address, President Biden once again, directly condemned recent attacks and violence against Asian Americans.[3] He described these incidents as vicious hate crimes that are wrong, that are un-American, and that must stop.[4]  The attacks and violence President Biden referenced have caused and continue to stoke anxiety and fear for Asian Americans during the pandemic.[5] In fact, in the aftermath of the March 16, 2021 mass shooting that killed six women of Asian descent, President Biden acknowledged that for Asian Americans, “it’s been a year of living in fear for their lives.”[6]

According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks reports of harassment towards Asian Americans, over 2,800 incidents were recorded in 2020.[7] In New York alone, the number of reported hate crimes against Asian Americans jumped to 28 incidents in 2020, over a nine-fold increase from just three incidents in 2019.[8] Including the first few months of 2021, from the start of the pandemic, Stop AAPI Hate has received over 3,000 reports of hate incidents.[9]

Why has the pandemic seen such an exponential increase in hate incidents against Asian Americans? Individuals, including activists, educators, and elected officials, mainly attribute the immediate increase in attacks to the rhetoric used by President Trump.[10] Early on in and throughout his COVID response, President Trump frequently referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” because of its suspected origination from China, directly blaming China for causing the pandemic.[11] As other Asian Americans are grouped together with Chinese Americans,[12] this misunderstanding about the pandemic has caused individuals to unfairly blame Asian Americans for creating and spreading COVID-19.[13]

Photograph from SOPA / Alamy

Nonetheless, researchers agree that the foundation of hatred and prejudice against Asian Americans long preceded the start of the pandemic.[14] Professor Janelle Wong from the University of Maryland believes there would not “have been the spike in anti-Asian bias without a pretty strong foundation rooted in the ‘forever foreigner’ stereotype.”[15] Also referred to as the “perpetual foreigner,” the stereotype describes the concept that Asian Americans will always be viewed as Asians who live in America instead of as Asians who are American citizens.[16] As such, Asian Americans are dismissed as irrelevant and treated as having no standing within the United States to point out injustice targeted towards them.[17]

These stereotypes preying on Anti-Asian hatred emerged in the 1800s.[18] In the late 19th and 20th centuries, due to declining wages and high unemployment, fears of economic and employment competition caused widespread anti-Chinese sentiments.[19] Motivated by economic, social, and political tensions, anti-Japanese sentiments surfaced in course of World War II.[20] During the economic downturn in the automobile industry in the 1980s, heightened economic insecurity across the nation led to an increase in anti-Asian sentiments and blame.[21]

While President Biden’s condemnation of attacks and violence against Asian American is a necessary acknowledgement of today’s reality, especially in light of the March 16, 2021 mass shooting, stronger legislative and executive action is required to combat this complex revival of anti-Asian hate. So far, the limited legislative and executive at the federal, state, and local levels have not done enough to prevent the spread of violence or correct the biases against Asian Americans.[22] The New York Police Department formed the Asian Hate Crime Task Force to guide victims through the criminal justice system in late 2020,[23] but this reactive response does little to protect Asian Americans from attacks and violence and fails to create immediate deterrence. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission started tracking workplace discrimination possibly cause by COVID 19 in April 2020,[24] but this reactive strategy does not guarantee protection for Asian Americans or legal or financial punishments against offenders.

Current proactive legislative and executive efforts may shift the narrative by correctly addressing and deterring anti-Asian hate and violence. The Department of Justice recently progressed in their efforts to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans.[25] The Department pledged to work with federal law enforcement and collaborate with state actors and agencies in order to report, investigate, and prosecute hate crimes against Asian Americans.[26] Additionally, new legislation soon to be introduced in both the House and Senate would denounce anti-Asian hate, establish educational campaigns about hate crimes, and direct state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.[27]

These actions are essential – albeit only the first step – in comprehensively undertaking the revival of anti-Asian hate. Further advocacy well beyond the end of the pandemic will need to be pursued in order to dismantle the unique and deep-rooted fear held against Asian Americans. The law should not only be used to focus on this issue. Instead, the law should be wielded to fix this rift.

[1] Ben Gittleson, Key takeaways from Biden’s 1st prime-time address to the nation, ABC News (Mar. 11, 2021, 9:29 PM), https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/key-takeaways-bidens-1st-prime-time-address-nation/story?id=76397471.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Madeleine Ngo, Biden condemns ‘vicious’ hate crimes against Asian-Americans., N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/us/biden-asian-americans-hate-crimes.html.

[6] Michael D. Shear, Confronting Violence Against Asians, Biden Says That ‘We Cannot Be Complicit’, N.Y. Times (Mar. 19, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/19/us/politics/biden-harris-atlanta.html.

[7] Li Zhou, The long history of anti-Asian hate in America, explained, Vox (Mar. 5, 2021, 5:45 PM), https://www.vox.com/identities/2020/4/21/21221007/anti-asian-racism-coronavirus-xenophobia.

[8] Ngo, supra note 2.

[9] Anne Anlin Cheng, What This Wave of Anti-Asian Violence Reveals About America, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/21/opinion/anti-asian-violence.html.

[10] Ngo, supra note 2.

[11] Ngo, supra note 2.

[12] Sabrina Tavernise & Richard A. Oppel Jr., Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety, N.Y. Times (Mar. 23, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/us/chinese-coronavirus-racist-attacks.html.

[13] Asian American Bar Association of New York & Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence against Asian Americans in New York During COVID-19: Impact, Causes, Solutions 6 (2021).

[14] Zhou, supra note 6.

[15] Zhou, supra note 6.

[16] Asian American Bar Association of New York & Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, supra note 12, at 5.

[17] Id.

[18] Zhou, supra note 6.

[19] Asian American Bar Association of New York & Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, supra note 12, at 8.

[20] Asian American Bar Association of New York & Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, supra note 12, at 8-9.

[21] Asian American Bar Association of New York & Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, supra note 12, at 9.

[22] Asian American Bar Association of New York & Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, supra note 12, at 15.

[23] Shan Li & Ben Chapman, NYPD Forms Asian Hate Crime Task Force, Wall St. J. (Oct. 18, 2020, 1:00 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/nypd-forms-asian-hate-crime-task-force-11603040400.

[24] Asian American Bar Association of New York & Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, supra note 12, at 16.

[25] Readout of The Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat Hate Crimes Against Asian American and Pacific Island Communities, Dep’t of Justice (Mar. 5, 2021), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/readout-department-justice-s-efforts-combat-hate-crimes-against-asian-american-and-pacific.

[26] Id.

[27] Nicholas Wu, Lawmakers to introduce anti-hate crime legislation amid rise in anti-Asian hate and violence, USA Today (Mar. 11, 2021, 9:00 AM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/03/11/asian-american-hate-incidents-target-new-legislation-congress/6937841002.