Bigotry Against Asian Americans Is Nothing New

Some were surprised to learn that hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have increased dramatically over the last year — but we weren’t. Donald Trump’s rise to power was proportional to a rise in hate crimes targeting nearly every minority as far back as 2015, when he first campaigned for president. His rhetoric has provided millions of hate-filled individuals with an excuse to use minority groups as an outlet for their own learned rage. 

Is it really all that shocking that violent crimes against Asian Americans have risen over the past 12 months? We had a president who consistently blamed China for letting the virus travel beyond its borders (there’s no guarantee the virus first appeared in China, by the way) and calls the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” the “Wuhan virus,” and even “Kung Flu.” He says he isn’t a bigot, but…does anyone really believe him?

Settling debt we must pay back to minority groups via reparations is the only path that might foster healing, but it’s not likely to happen soon if at all.

Postdoctoral fellow at the Charles Warren Center For Studies in American History Courtney Sato said, “The important thing to remember is that this is really not an exceptional moment by any means. But it’s really part of a much longer genealogy of anti-Asian violence that reaches as far back as the 19th century.”

Racially motivated stereotypes sometimes take on a confusing appearance. For example, many men fetishize Asian women — which, perhaps contrary to common thinking, only fosters an unhealthy relationship between white people and this particular minority group. 

Sato shed light on past events that most people don’t know about. For example, in 1871 a mob formed in Chinatown (in Downtown Los Angeles) to murder 19 Asian-American residents, including a young teenage boy. This event followed biased and racially motivated government legislation, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The law prevents Chinese immigrants from entering the country. A prior law had prevented only Chinese women from entering the country.

The United States was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, but its citizens have long found ways to “sidestep” this principle by simply defining certain people differently. For example, slaves were defined as personal property — they weren’t people at all as defined by law.

Sato said, “In the 1875 Act, we see the ways in which race and gender are beginning to be entangled and codified in the law, and how Asian women were deemed to be bringing in sexual deviancy. That far back, we can see how racism and sexism were being conflated.”

Harvard President Larry Bacaw responded to the recent violence: “For the past year, Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders have been blamed for the pandemic — slander born of xenophobia and ignorance. Harvard must stand as a bulwark against hatred and bigotry. We welcome and embrace individuals from every background because it makes us a better community, a stronger community. An attack on any group of us is an attack on all of us — and on everything we represent as an institution.”

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