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Recent Attacks on the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Communities Expand the National Discussion

By Claire Tsanatelis

Due to this country’s history, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement into national headlines after the events of last year, it’s no wonder why race is typically seen as an issue with Blacks at the forefront of the American racism experience.

Lately, more attention has been diverted to adding other minority groups of color, and their shared, but individual experiences of racism to the much larger discussion of race in America. We’ve seen this grow more salient in the past year after a recent surge of attacks on the Asian-American community, who have long been regarded as our nation’s “model minority.” These upticks of anti-Asian harassment began in March 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China, began to spread on American soil by infecting and eventually killing thousands of Americans.

This rise of the negative association with the Asian-American community and their “responsibility” for spreading the virus, has led a lot of people, particularly journalists and activists, to attribute the primary catalyst of this spike to former President Trump’s rhetoric on referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus.” These are bold claims, but these assumptions are not surprising as President Trump and his supporters have long been associated in the media for emboldening white supremacy and racism all over the country for the past five years.

There have been over 2,800 reported incidents of verbal abuse and violence towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that have been recorded by the organization, Stop AAPI Hate. While the majority of these assaults result in nonphysical verbal slurs, that doesn’t excuse the violent incidents that have even ended in death, where the main victims appear to be the elderly, but not always.

Asian Americans face surges in hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic. Image from Yahoo.

In recent weeks our national headlines have been dominated by the tragedy that occurred March 16, when a 21-year-old gunman is alleged to have targeted three Georgia massage parlors, leaving eight victims dead. Six out of the eight victims are Asian, and the alleged perpetrator is white, which immediately stoked up hysteria by the mainstream media and fear in the Asian community about the grave threat white supremacy poses to the safety of POC in this country. CNN even published an article titled, “White Supremacy and Hate are Haunting Asian Americans.”

Both the police who are holding the shooter in custody and the FBI stated that the shooting did not appear to be racially motivated. The perpetrator, who was a regular attendee at these parlors, claims that he carried out this attack due to a sex addiction and only targeted these parlors to eliminate temptation. Based on the information we know thus far, it’s puzzling why blogs, articles and commentary talk shows aren’t redacting the rhetoric they’re using that explicitly blames these horrific murders on white supremacy and white racism. Or why no one’s using this news story to shed light on a separate important issue that is highlighted in these confirmed statements, and that is not just the horrors of sex addiction, but how sex-related addictions can inspire a young man to go on a homicidal rampage

An incident that’s as disturbing and multi-faceted as this recent shooting is being obscured so one narrative can be discussed, and it all stems back to expanding the national conversation of racism towards Asians and white supremacy in general. This recent tragedy was just the icing on the cake to complete the framing of the reporting of these current events on anti-Asian racism, which have grown prevalent this past winter.

On February 20, 2021, Reverend Al Sharpton and State Senator John Liu (D-Queens, NY) joined in solidarity as an antiracist Black-Asian alliance, uniting the Black and Asian communities to hold a march against white nationalism in New York City. The NYPD has reported a 1,900 percent increase in hate crimes fueled by anti-Asian sentiment. New York and California have experienced the most noteworthy attacks covered by the national news.

When Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, who was a Thai immigrant, was fatally assaulted earlier this year in his San Francisco neighborhood, he had his picture used with the slogan “Justice for Vicha Ratanapakdee” for the promotional flyer that was used for New York City’s “unite against white nationalism” protest to combat anti-Asian violence. Ratanapakdee’s killer may have been African American, but that doesn’t stop this victim’s name from being used for a protest against white nationalism, where a lot of these deadly attacks on the elderly AAPI community have been blamed on former President Trump’s comments that presumably fired up hate in his bigoted supporters.

Unfortunately, Ratanapakdee isn’t the only elderly man of Asian descent who has been violently attacked or killed in the Bay Area by a Black male, where Black-on-Asian violence has been an ongoing epidemic in San Francisco and other parts of California, being documented as far back in 2010 by the Pulitzer-prize winning site, SFGate. In addition to New York City, Oakland and San Francisco organized similar marches this past month to condemn the ongoing violence of their elderly Asian peers who have lost their lives.

Of course, repeated cycles of interracial violence in California cities like San Francisco and Oakland are different from the recent explosion of anti-Asian attacks across the country in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic. But considering these hate crimes and acts of violence are more likely to occur in urban areas, specifically New York City, and several cities in California, it does raise eyebrows as to why the media and elected representatives such as Ted Lieu, Mark Takano, Judy Chu, and Barbara Lee have been so quick to blame the former president’s alleged anti-Asian sentiment.

New York and California are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse places in the country and considering that both states are deep blue and are governed by Democratic strongholds, it’s odd to see how there would happen to be that many white Trump supporters walking around verbally and physically assaulting random Asians. According to a list compiled of all known attacks on Asians in the United States, most of the declared perpetrators are African Americans with a few other groups of color comprising these attacks as well. The FBI’s own crime statistics reveal that despite making up 13 percent of the population, Black Americans committed 27.5 percent of all crimes against Asian Americans, while whites commit 24 percent of crimes targeting Asian-Americans.

With this knowledge of interracial violence, we’re not going to blame or villainize those who are most likely to carry out these heinous acts, but rather try to understand the complexity of race-related issues in this country that surpasses the white-Black dichotomy over the past hundreds of years, or the usual white supremacy bogeyman, which has developed into pure conspiratorial fearmongering.

As a multiracial country that grows more diverse every year, we have to be aware of race-related issues that are growing under our noses while we’re too busy focusing on the traditional roots of racial conflict in this country. We don’t even know if most of the Black on Asian attacks are racially motivated, but there are underlying factors, both anecdotal and data-based, that could explain why this has been happening. This way we can finally mitigate these problems with efficiency, not by assuming they’re happening because of race before we have concrete evidence that suggests so, but by cracking down on why such crimes are able to persist so easily throughout our nation’s cities.

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