Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Have Always Existed
Since the pandemic began, hate crimes towards Asians have increased at an alarming rate. This includes threats, slurs and physical abuse of Asian people as well as vandalization of cultural monuments. Last March, hate crimes directed at Asians have surged across the globe. In the U.S, hate crimes are up by 150% and in the UK 300%. In Canada, 1,150 anti-Asian incidents were recorded from March 10, 2020 to February 28, 2021.
"Blaming Chinese people or Chinese culture for the pandemic only serves to reinforce stereotypes of East Asians as the “yellow peril.” - Nathan Denette, The Canadian Press
It is important to understand that what may seem like a sudden issue of racism and hate crimes towards Asians, has always existed. When former President, Donald Trump, synonymously labeled COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus", he knowingly created another moment in history that plunged Asian's into a harmful and dangerous spotlight. But if we take a look back, there are many moments in history that are blatantly reminiscent of this racist act. Racism towards Asians stems back to the 1800's to the concept of Yellow Peril, in which East Asians are considered a threat to Western society. From 1882-1965, the US put in place the Chinese Exclusion Act, a bill that legally restricted skilled and unskilled Chinese labourers from entering the US. The American government viewed Chinese immigration as a "danger" to their "pure" nation. From 1923 to 1947, Canada put forth a "Chinese exclusion" legislation that kept Chinese immigrants from entering the country. In 1942, during the middle of World War ll, the Canadian government also interned Japanese Canadians into camps, just as the US did. Today, it is more likely for Asians in Canada to be living in poverty than in the US.
Other notable incidents include Vancouver's Chinatown being described as an "ulcer" by the commissioner in 1885. He suggested that it would eventually "cause disease in the places around it and ultimately the whole body." This prompted media to unjustly associate Chinatown with "filth and disease." It's clear that in history, there has been a consistently dehumanizing narrative that links the Chinese community with disease. By utilizing this language, Chinese communities are viewed as foreign and dangerous and further associating them with the idea of illness and sickness has been perpetuated. This long echoed and terrible harmful narrative has resulted in the massive increase in crimes against Asian's all around the world.
On March 16, 2021, a 21-year-old man opened fire at an Atlanta-based spa, and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. Authorities later revealed that the murderer later shared that his victims "were a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate." This heinous and undeniably racist act has caused immense fear throughout the Asian community, specifically massage parlor workers who, by the majority, are Asian women and migrant workers.
"There are multiple layers of oppression that led to this murder." - Elene Lam, Executive Director at Butterfly
When dealing with hate crimes, Asian women face a complex form where sexism, racism, and fetishization intersect. Asian women have been hyper-sexualized and have fallen into the stereotype of being exotic and submissive. Throughout history, we often hear labels like "exotic lotus flower", "dragon ladies" and "temptress" as ways to describe Asian women. These harmful descriptions are rooted in dangerously racist and sexist treatment and portrayal of Asian women in history and the media. During times of war, specifically between the US and Asian countries, there was a clear and normalized narrative that Asian countries can be dominated and there was a distinct fetishization created of dominating anything Asian related; an idea manifested that Asian's are submissive. This was also fuelled by the reality that American soldiers participated in the sex industry and as a result, the camp town's popped up near US military bases. Soldiers began to associate being in Asia with being sex workers - although being an Asian sex worker is not more common than any other race or culture - and this narrative was later distributed through film and media. A stigma was created that Asian women's bodies are for white male pleasure, therefore, putting a target on the backs of Asian women.
Violence against Asian women has occurred long before times of recent wars, dating back to 1875 with the Page Act. The Page Act was a law passed that targeted East Asian women, particularly Chinese women. The US government believed that Chinese women were associated with prostitution, that they carried diseases and they were temptations for white men. They were able to successfully enact this bill that laid the foundations of this hyper-sexualized perception of Asian women. The fact is that Asian women are still dealing with this reality - no matter what industry they are a part of. It's clear with the Atlanta shooting that Asian women are still perceived as passive objects that are meant to dominate.
To confront that racism we need to make our voices and experiences heard. If you have faced discrimination violence and racism, we encourage you to voice your opinion out! A great place to do so would be here. The massive increase in hate crimes against Asians has created necessary and urgent conversations and work that must be done to support Asian communities. We have to work together to understand the complex history that has fostered this hatred and how to combat it. We must actively change our perception and understanding of Asian massage parlors and sex work and we must also educate each other on COVID-19 to ensure that blame is not placed and taken out on Asian people.
The following links below contain organizations with information on different ways you can help the Asian community.
- @Inclusivecareproject - What should I do if I witness an anti-Asian hate crime?
- @Inclusivecareproject - How can I help prevent COVID-19 stigma and anti-Asian racism
- Responding to Hate Tool Kit
- Bystander Intervention Training
Other Ways to Support the Asian Community
- Shop and support Asian owned businesses and creators (specifically small businesses and creators)
- Check on your Asian friends
- Utilize social media to spread awareness
- Educate your close friends and family on how they can be an ally (including speaking up against micro-aggressive behaviour and language)
Written By - Evlyn Singh & Zayde Nair