Repeated Themes of Hatred
Over the past year (I guess now more than a year), Asian-Americans have faced constant harrassment, disrespect, and even violence as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world. Asian-Americans have also faced a long, long history of discrimination and hatred in the United States.
The single most important point that I think I need to make on this topic is the fact that this is not being talked about. This a long pattern in the history of oppression for Asian-Americans, and it is unfortunately being carried on today. Even in history textbooks, very few instances or examples of this discrimination and hatred are included in curriculums, even about Japanese Internment camps during WWII. For example, I did not learn about any oppression against Asian-American people in any of my history classes up until now, and got all of my information from outside sources. During WWII, a time when a many Americans felt intense patriotism and the desire to fight the rising power of the Nazis in Europe for their own freedom, we were simultaneously locking up hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans (citizens for the most part), right in the middle of California. The hypocrisy in this is often overlooked, and it is still washed over in our US History classes!!! For many years, the voices of Asian-Americans who have attempted to speak up about their own experiences with prejudice, discrimination and hatred have largely been silenced or ignored, while people proclaim about how the US is the greatest country in the world and how everyone is equal here. Justice is not selective; you cannot fight against oppression for one group of people and then turn around and ignore another. To use the same quote a second time, by Elie Wiesel, "Those who are silent in times of injustice have chosen the side of the oppressor".
And this hate continues to grow. A largely recurring theme in the pattern large-scale discrimination or acts of hatred against one group of people is the act of "othering" or "scape-goating". Clearly, our country was absolutely devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, and many people are very angry about this. They want someone to blame, a tangible thing to point their finger at, when in reality we should be pointing the fingers at ourselves. According to both the UC Berkely and the CBS article, over 2,500 cases of acts of violence and hatred against Asian-Americans have been reported in the last year alone. Winston Tseng, from UC Berkeley, says that this reminds him of the same racism and xenophobia that was present in America in the 19th and 20th centuries (UC Berkeley article). I find this truly scary, because the extreme and horrific measures that the government went to in an attempt to silence and oppress Asian-Americans. And the even scarier thing is, this is not some far-off, intangible kind of thing that we only hear about on the news once a month, but rather a sad reality for everyday people. Cynthia Choi, the co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, says "These are real people just living their lives and encountering this kind of hate" (CBS article).This is very, very real fear for any Asian-American living in the United States right now. Asian-American parents are even saying that they have to have the "talk" about what to do if their child finds themselves in a dangerous situation. From the article from The Marshall Project, Felix Sitthivong shares his story about having this "talk" with his son: "But then my eyes filled with tears as I expressed how, after all of the anti-Asian racism I've been seeing lately, I was concerned I was for his safety out on the road by himself. My son listened reluctantly as I went through the do's and don'ts of his reaction if he ever found himself in a sketchy situation" (The Marshall Project article). This racism and hatred goes as deep as our own president, who continues to call the coronavirus the "Chinese Virus" and "Kung-Flu". Once again, this is extremely dangerous, because he is saying to the rest of America that this is ok. He is giving encouragement to the rest of his supporters to do the same. This is also very scary, because going back to Executive Order 9066, it was simple politicians who created and executed the internment camps of WWII. The parellels from that time and now are very scary. And this kind of image of Asian-Americans has deeper roots than we know of in America; the Stop AAPI Hate team took a look at anti-Asian xenophobia back in the 1800's, where Asian-Americans were demonized as violent, disease ridden savages, even in the windows of local, everyday businesses (TeenVogue article). The pattern here is clear. Part of the problem is ignorance, which is partly due to the flaws and holes in the American education system, but the other part of the problem is simply that people won't speak up. There are people who are afraid to walk outside, be in public, every day in our country, yet we stay silent.
Thus, this racism and xenophobia is a widespread and rampant threat to Asian-Americans in the United States right now, and it is largely being ignored. I think that the best thing we can do as allies is to not be what I call "selective activists", which means that we only speak up on issues that are being widely talked about. We cannot simply go along with the tide of society in these situations, in order to create real change we have to speak up, even if we are the only one doing so. In these kinds of times, being a bystander is just as bad as being the aggressor. By staying silent during these times, we are giving our consent for the times to stay as they are, which we know, as seen above, cannot happen.
My final question is this: what tangible things can we do? Above, I mentioned that we must speak up, go against the tide, and stand up in these times, but what does that look like for us? What specifically can we do to help this issue?