In the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed a spike in attacks against Asian Americans. For a while, these rampant attacks weren’t very visible on news headlines, until last Tuesday, March 6th, reports of eight people—six of whom are Asian American women—shot to death at Atlanta massage parlors started circulating around. This attack has sparked the trend of the hashtag #StopAsianHate and demanded urgent action against the growing hate and violence targeting Asians and Pacific Islanders. But these recent attacks are much more than racially charged violence, and this movement has not addressed the root of these attacks yet.
First of all, despite being grouped under the label “Anti-Asian Violence,” I would like to point out how terribly poor of a label it is to unify under. Yes, these attacks are specifically directed towards Asian-Americans, but Asia itself is a vast continent that houses various countries with different cultures. Therefore, there is no such thing as “Asian culture” because Asians cannot be defined under one single identity. This diversity in cultures affects the way Westerners view us; the way they see Middle-Easterners will be different than the way they see East Asians. The attacks against Sikh Americans after 9/11, for example, happened because they were perceived as Muslims when Islamophobia in the United States was at its peak. We cannot group the attacks against Sikh Americans under the umbrella term of Anti-Asian Violence despite most Sikhs originating from countries in West Asia. There is a specific problem that drives these recent attacks that we must actively recognize. We cannot just group them under the general definition of racism against Asians because doing so will distract us from the true nature behind these growing attacks.
These racially motivated attacks against Asian-Americans have a lot to do with Covid-19 and how it especially affects how China is being perceived in the United States. When the Coronavirus outbreak reached the United States, the number of racist attacks against Asian-Americans had risen significantly to the point where a non-profit organization called Stop AAPI Hate—which tracks incidents of discrimination, hate, and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States—was created as a response. From March 2020 to February 2021, they have documented 3.795 racially motivated attacks, which is likely only a fraction of the actual number because many were not reported. Just as the Sikh attacks, these attacks can’t only be caused by their Asian origins. From the reported attacks, 40% were reported by Chinese Americans, 15% by Korean Americans, and 8% by Filipino Americans. The fact that the majority of the victims are East Asians is not a coincidence; hence, instead of grouping it under the umbrella term Anti-Asian Violence, we should start addressing the fact that these attacks happen due to more specific reasoning, which is the victims being perceived as Chinese. The racism against Chinese people is the main reason behind these recent attacks, and this still applies even when the victims are not Chinese since they tend to be lumped together under and stereotyped as “Chinese looking.”
Moreover, these attacks are the manifestations of the anti-Chinese sentiments growing in the United States for centuries, which have worsened since the pandemic started. As we know it, the Covid-19 pandemic is caused by a virus originating from Wuhan, China, and due to its origins, many have equated the problematic nature of the virus with Chinese people. What follows is a rise in the anti-China or Sinophobic sentiments that strengthens the already present one in the United States, which has racialized this pandemic and directly resulted in various attacks against Asian Americans, particularly East Asians.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Sinophobia is the fear of or contempt for China, its people, or its culture. As previously mentioned, Sinophobia in the United States isn’t new, and it is a product of the systemic fear-mongering tactics formed by the United States government and media for centuries. It first appeared shortly after the arrival of Chinese immigrants in the United States around the mid-19th century, culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned further Chinese immigration as well as naturalization. American merchants, missionaries, and diplomats would send negative testimonies about the people they encountered in China to the Americans who had never set foot outside of North America, which then created the racist “Yellow Peril” metaphor that portrays East Asian people as an existential danger to the Westerners. These sentiments kept growing throughout the Cold War under the influence of McCarthyism or the Red Scare, where anti-communist campaigns created blind fear and accusations of anything related to communism, which was then equated to China.
In modern times, Sinophobia has not perished yet; in fact, it is growing steadily and consistently. According to a Pew Research Center poll released in August 2019, 60% of Americans have negative opinions about China. Furthermore, China was named as America’s greatest enemy by 24 percent of the respondents. This is the consequence of the systemic efforts to villainize rising foreign powers that may threaten the United States, further justifying the United States’ imperialist interest. Its fear-mongering technique has succeeded in keeping racism alive. The way the United States government uses the Covid-19 pandemic as a tool to further fuel anti-Chinese sentiments has only worsened the situation. The way former president Donald Trump has likened the virus to its origin by referring to them as the “Chinese Virus,” “China Virus,” and “Kung Flu” has justified these anti-Chinese sentiments under the disguise of fear for the virus. It has also allowed many Western media outlets to further promote Sinophobia by constantly using the negative orientalist tropes of the Chinese when describing the virus. Asian-American businesses also have to be subjected to the impact of Sinophobia, from having to go through financial crises due to losing customers to being harassed and vandalized. In New York City, home to the largest and most prominent ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, there has been an estimate of a 40% sales drop for Chinese businesses. Other East-Asian Americans, who tend to be stereotyped as being the same as Chinese Americans, also have to take the brunt of these anti-Chinese sentiments. These xenophobic responses to the coronavirus pandemic have been normalized to the point that it allows the white supremacist ideology behind this to foster.
This is why it is important to consider Sinophobia as the main force behind the growing hate crimes against Asian-Americans, and simply calling it an “Anti-Asian Violence” or “Asian Hate” isn’t constructive enough if we want to offer effective solutions to prevent more victims in the future. Even more so, saying things like “____ country is Asian too!” “Asia is not just China!” seems very redundant as it derails us from the root of the issue, which is centered around how Westerners treat Chinese people, in the mainland or abroad. These Anti-Asian hate crimes do not come out of some random vacuum of racism; it relies on the fear-mongering rhetoric and demonization of Asian people abroad as a tool to justify U.S. imperialism and white supremacy, and any fights that claim to put an end to Anti-Asian hate crimes while refusing to acknowledge this is a fight that will fall to a useless end.
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Anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States. (2021, March 21). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Chinese_sentiment_in_the_United_States
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MacLeod Alan MacLeod @AlanRMacLeod is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group. His latest book, A. (2020, March 24). In pursuit of Chinese SCAPEGOATS, MEDIA Reject Life-Saving Lessons. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://fair.org/home/in-pursuit-of-chinese-scapegoats-media-reject-life-saving-lessons/
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