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Asian Americans have deep roots in US history

By Chen Weihua | | Updated: 2021-03-25 10:33
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Leon Zhang (left) and Chris Tang of McLean, Virginia, take part in a rally on Sunday in Washington in response to the Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead, including six Asian women. One of the dead was a Chinese citizen. [Photo/Agencies]

While Americans debate whether the March 16 shooting in the three spas in Atlanta, Georgia, that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, constitutes a hate crime, the protests against discrimination of Asian Americans in many US cities showed that people are fed up with a society where such crimes went unchecked for the past year.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans saw the single biggest increase with serious incidents of online hate and harassment, and racist slurs blaming people of Asian descent for the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report in USA Today on Wednesday, which quoted a survey conducted by anti-hate group ADL.

The watchdog group Stop AAPI Hate, which tracked attacks against Asian Americans shortly after the pandemic broke out, has received 3,795 complaints of racism and discrimination since this time last year.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 US cities jumped 149 percent in 2020 over the previous year, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino. In New York City, it shot up an appalling 833 percent.

Former US president Donald Trump was chiefly responsible for inciting hate crimes against Asian Americans when he repeatedly used "China Virus" and "Kung Flu" to refer to the novel coronavirus at campaign rallies, press conferences and many other events.

I protested against his racist slurs watching his speeches live on White House Twitter account. As a result, I was immediately barred from making any comments.

Besides Trump, many other senior US officials and lawmakers have also demonized China and the Chinese people. Senator Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee sent a tweet in December saying: "China has a 5,000-year history of cheating and stealing. Some things will never change." The tweet not only reflects her utter ignorance but also sows the seeds of hatred against people of Asian descent, especially Chinese descent.

Many Americans have chosen to keep silent in front of such racist attacks by their national leaders and politicians. This includes many news outlets which quoted and treated Trump's "China Virus" racial slurs like regular terms over the past year.

So it's a bit odd when Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Marco Rubio came out last week to defend Asian Americans against discrimination because they were complicit in Trump's racist attacks for more than four years.

It's not the Republicans who are solely responsible for the increase in hate crimes. The United States Interim National Security Strategic Guidance announced by the White House this month labels China as a threat which has "invested heavily in efforts meant to check US strengths and prevent us from defending our interests and allies around the world". The 21-page document mentioned China and its government some 20 times, almost all in extremely negative and confrontational tone.

The fact that more Confucius Institutes are under pressure of closure under the current US administration suggests that learning the languages and acquiring knowledge about different cultures, which build bridges between people and ethnic groups, is still being vilified.

Having spent a year in Hawaii in the early 1990s, I knew well how paranoia about Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attack resulted in the internment of 120,000 people. California defined anyone with 1/16 or more Japanese lineage as sufficient to be sent to a concentration camp.

It was only in the 1980s that Washington apologized for the US' infamous history. A report commissioned for Congress said the internment resulted more from racism than any security risk posed by Japanese Americans.

With US politicians ratcheting up McCarthyist and Cold War-style rhetoric against China, Chinese Americans (in fact, all Asian Americans) are likely to be the targets of more racist hate crimes.

Uprooting such hate crimes requires much more efforts than just denouncing Trump.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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