Two weeks ago, a gunman tragically shot and killed 8 people in three Atlanta-area massage businesses. Six of the eight victims were of Asian descent, leaving the Asian-American community reeling.
In the past year, hate incidents against the Asian-American community have been on the rise. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 3 in 10 Asian–Americans report having experienced racial slurs since the beginning of the pandemic. And a national report released by Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate reveals that almost 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported since last March.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Iyko Day, Associate Professor of English and Critical Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College, to hear her perspective.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The American dream is a different experience for everyone in this country and for many Asian-Americans recently, that dream has turned into a nightmare.
Two weeks ago, a gunman tragically shot and killed eight people in three Atlanta area massage businesses. Six out of the eight people were of Asian descent, leaving the Asian-American community reeling.
Since the start of the pandemic, hate incidents against the Asian-American community have been on the rise. According to a Pew Research Center survey, three in 10 Asian-Americans report having experienced racial slurs since the beginning of the pandemic. And a national report released by Stop AAPI Hate — AAPI stands for Asian-American Pacific Islander — revealed that there have been almost 3800 anti-Asian hate incidents reported since last March.
I spoke recently with Iyko Day, associate professor of English and Critical Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College, to hear her perspective.
Professor Iyko Day, Mount Holyoke College: Of course, you know, there has been profound anger and despair across Asian-American communities. I think that there has been a lot of outrage at the way that the Atlanta shooter — sorry, the Atlanta sheriff — really first decided to prioritize the humanity of the white male shooter. You know, explaining that he had had a really bad day and that he struggled with a sex addiction.
The women he targeted were workers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives with the sheriff reduce their humanity to the racist, misogynist fantasies of their killer, regardless of whether his victims were sex workers or not.
Zydalis Bauer: At the beginning of this pandemic, you spoke on Connecting Point around former President Trump’s rhetoric around the coronavirus and the Asian community. He referred to the coronavirus as the Kung Flu and Chinese Virus. With a new administration in office, and having a vice president who is of South Asian descent, what changes do you expect to see with this new leadership?
Professor Iyko Day: Sadly, when it comes to the specific question of Xenophobia, I think that in your reference to Donald Trump, I mean, certainly he was responsible for stoking Xenophobic racism when he continually referred to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus and then imposing sanctions against China.
But when we look at the Biden administration, it’s virtually indistinguishable in terms of its anti-China policies as well. Trump called China a threat to the world and imposed, as I mentioned, economic sanctions, but the new administration has also said that China is our pacing threat.
And what I just want to underscore here is that U.S. foreign policy in Asia has always had an impact on anti-Asian sentiment in the US because most Americans lump all Asians together as a kind of foreign other. So, when government officials express fears over China and other — or other Asian countries, Americans often resort to racist narratives that cast doubt on the loyalty and belonging of 20 million Asian-Americans.
And, you know, we can even contrast this with the treatment, with the situation with Russia, which was accused of hacking our and election interference. But that has virtually no impact on Americans of Russian descent. So we can see the disparity, you know, in the consequences for this kind of China saber rattling that has followed from the Trump administration into the Biden administration.
Zydalis Bauer: Similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting and rallies are just one action to take against this type of discrimination. What are some other actions that people can take against anti-Asian violence?
Professor Iyko Day: I think that’s a great question. And one of the questions that I would actually have for the Biden-Harris administration is to ask them to stop saying that anti-Asian racism is somehow un-American. Which is what President — how President Biden described the Anti-Asian violence in the Atlanta shooting at a press briefing recently.
You know, all we need to do is to review the history to determine what is American or un-American about anti-Asian violence. First, there was the violent anti-Chinese labor movements of the late 19th and 20th centuries. In eighteen seventy five, Congress passed the Page Law, which barred Chinese women on the basis of their presumed sexual immorality.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which restricted Chinese immigration for over half a century. During World War Two, we saw the West Coast expulsion and incarceration of one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans in remote concentration camps.
In 1982, two unemployed white auto workers murdered Vincent Chin with a baseball bat, blaming him as a Chinese-American for the decline of the US auto industry to Japanese competition. Both men were acquitted and never served one day in prison.
In 1999,Chinese American scientist Wen Ho Lee was accused of being a spy who passed nuclear tests, nuclear secrets to China. And he was imprisoned for nine months in solitary confinement before he was exonerated.
And then, of course, after 9/11, we’ve witnessed the dramatic escalation of racial profiling and violence against South Asian communities in any kind of Muslim-looking people.
So in a nutshell, anti-Asian racism is in fact, it’s been all too American. So I think that saying that anti-Asian racism is un-American, is actually a way of avoiding a systemic analysis of the roots of this violence, which would involve implicating white supremacy, xenophobia and US Imperial violence.