Updated: Feb 18
“Stop Asian Hate.” I take issue with merely saying that slogan.
I do not believe that it is somehow a “radical” demand, or that it is reverse racist, or that it makes non-Asians uncomfortable. My problem with “#StopAsianHate” is that it only focuses on the symptoms and ignores the root causes of the issue. It’s basically a command to individuals, not society, to stop the hate.
The mass shooting which killed eight people in Georgia left Asian-Americans in shock at how far the hatred had gone. Some protested, demanding an end to this hate. US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the hate on the podium and signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a law that pledges to address the increase in hate against Asian Americans.
Despite these efforts, the amount of hate crimes have almost tripled since the pandemic began. Stop AAPI Hate’s tally of incidents grew from 2,800 at the end of last year, to 3,800 after the Georgia shooting happened, to 6,600 in May and then 9,000 in August. In some places, hate crimes increased by twenty times. Clearly, shouting “Stop Asian Hate” is not enough.
Stop Asian Hate: What’s causing anti-Asian hate? “Yellow peril”
Though it seems that America is a welcoming place for immigrants, history shows otherwise. Irish immigrants came to the US to escape the potato famine of 1845-1862 and economic opportunites, but instead of acceptance, there was discrimination. “No Irish need apply” appeared in newspapers, in advertisements, and more. Italian immigrants arrived in the US for similar opportunities only to receive name-callings and lynching.
Asians, mainly Chinese, also immigrated to the United States for a similar reason to escape opium addiction and the hardships in China as a result of lost wars and colonialism. As Asians took jobs in various fields, earning a living for themselves and their families back home, non-Asians feared that “the Asian ‘horde’ [was] coming for their jobs.” The sentiment eventually evolved into the yellow peril.
Asian Americans were portrayed as this “threat” that needed to be stopped. Pamphlets raving against Asian Americans were published in droves, decrying them as an “evil menace” and a bunch of “filthy yellow hordes.” People blamed their so-called “backward cultures” for whatever problems Asians might have exhibited and labelled them as “lazy and entitled” and “job thieves coming for our livelihoods.” Horace Greeley, an orator, even raved, “The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.”
In the 1870s, America went through an economic depression. Many Americans sought a scapegoat to blame for this downturn and the loss of jobs. They found a viable one: Asians immigrating to America.
Front cover of pamphlet, “Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion; American Manhood against Asiatic Coolieism: Which Shall Survive?” published in 1901 by the American Federation of Labor. The American Federation of Labor, now AFL-CIO, represents labor unions across the United States. Pamphlets like this “justified” the need for Chinese exclusion.
This sentiment led to laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigrants from entering the US or becoming citizens. It was the only such law that banned immigrants on the basis of ethnicity or nationality. The laws were passed despite China’s despair brought by colonialism. These tropes continued to persist, even today.
In early 2020 when China detected the first coronavirus cases in Wuhan at the Huanan Seafood Market, some influencers lambasted Chinese people’s “bat- and dog-eating habits” and their “dirtiness.” The media also tagged along, with the Wall Street Journal titling one article, “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia.” Several other media outlets joined, writing, “Chinese virus pandamonium” (last word not misspelled) and “China kids stay home.” Given that most people usually do not read beyond the headline, one can see how the “dirty virus spreader” trope became widespread.
Worse, the same media often portray China in a negative light about the virus, every single day. Sure, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made some mistakes in the virus handling. But there’s no use endlessly bringing them up as if the CCP did everything wrong.
And assuming that you can disconnect the CCP from the Chinese people is incorrect. We saw how anti-Asian hate still rose, even though some people said, “I’m not against the Chinese people, only the CCP.” You cannot separate a country from its people.
Stop Asian Hate: Anti-China narratives
China’s rapid growth and its rule under a communist party “legitimizes” the new yellow peril. Under the old “yellow peril” of last century, the countries in which Asians immigrated from were colonized and impoverished. Under the new “yellow peril” of this century, China is not under colonial or neocolonial rule but instead, is a sovereign country. China’s growth into one of the largest economies and a global power fueled the new yellow peril. After all, China is projected to surpass the US’s GDP within a few years.
Since China is an Asian country that is growing faster than the US under an alternative system of government, it must be suppressed. China, therefore, is portrayed under a biased lens by the media, with mistakes blown out of proportion, accomplishments minimized, and its existence a “threat.” Some examples:
China was labeled as a sports machine out to “get golds at any cost” in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This label would never apply to any Western country in regards to winning medals. Overseas Chinese STEM students were labeled as part of the “Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to exploit “our universities to spy and steal our technology,” even though no other set of international students receive this label.
China’s COVID-19 response was denounced in the Western media. Say what you want about China’s response to COVID, but constantly caricaturing it as some kind of dystopia is not a good way to talk about it. The BBC provides a good example in that it added a greyish filter in its coronavirus coverage in China to boost the “dystopian” narrative.
Screenshots by the author of Ian Goodrum’s Twitter tweets on March 17, 2021. Ian Goodrum is a contributing author to People’s World, a left-leaning newspaper and a digital editor of China Daily, a Chinese government-owned media source. The tweet compiles screenshots from media headlines “warning” about the “dangers of China.”
Stop Asian Hate: So what’s this smearing over China got to do with anti-Asian hate?
“China’s going to steal your jobs!” “China is ruining our way of life!” “China is undermining our national security!” When you hear things like this every day, how does your perception of Asians change? Do you see them as innocents mixed up in all this, or accomplices in China’s “machinations?”
Historically, people see the latter. During World War II where Japan was an enemy of the US, Japanese Americans were portrayed as spies and saboteurs regardless of their true loyalties or even birth location, “justifying” their internment from 1942 to 1945. So it is not surprising when people think that Chinese people are accomplices in China’s quest for “world domination.” “When America China-bashes, then Chinese get bashed, and so do those who ‘look Chinese.’ American foreign policy in Asia is American domestic policy for Asians,” Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate says.
Screenshot from a report titled “How China Threat Narratives Feed Anti-Asian Racism and How to Fight Back” authored by Tobita Chow on June 8, 2021. Tobita Chow is the director of Justice is Global, an affiliate of People’s Action, which is a grassroots organization that advocates for social causes. This report is linked here.
Thus, among the various racist lines is the “Chinese virus.” Stop AAPI Hate reported that 30% of incidents contained anti-Chinese rhetoric. After all, you cannot separate a country from its people.
Still, phrases like “Chinese virus” are easily condemnable for its overtness. But subtle things like the “China threat” narrative is what truly engrains racism. Like the pyramid of “acceptable and unacceptable” sexism, subtle racism provides a basis for the more overt acts of racism like the “Chinese virus” and physical attacks.
Stop Asian Hate: My solution proposals
Clearly anti-Asian racism is more ingrained than people would like to admit. However, its prevalence is no excuse to let it run rampant. #StopAAPIHate activists know this, but their movement so far only addresses the outlying symptom: overt racist verbal abuse and physical attacks on Asians. What about the fox-eye trend, the “disgusting” food in Asia, or the consistent negativity of a country an ocean away? Let’s be clear that this article never, ever insinuated that China is perfect or exceptional. China has its own problems and its own way to solve them, and it would rather not have anyone meddle in its affairs.
When it comes to media coverage on China (or that of any country), journalists and editors need to read their articles on that country and compare it with their articles on their home countries, and use side-by-side reading to help reduce bias. An example of this is CGTN’s coverage of the For the People Act in the US in how it covered US politics with minimum bias. Instead of dismissively calling a regulation a “crackdown,” consider its context and see why China is enacting it. Maybe they and their readers can learn lessons and gain an understanding of China’s government, its policies, and the latter’s potential effects. Plus, it can improve their local and global credibility.
That does not mean you should not criticize China’s government at all. Keep criticizing China, but do it like you’re criticizing your own country’s government. Here’s an example in regards to China’s education reform: “these are some good first steps to address the profiteering of education and student anxiety, but so long as China’s universities rely too much on the gaokao, or China’s college entrance exam, this problem will never truly be solved. Students will end up studying and cramming for the gaokao regardless of whether tutoring companies make money or not.”
Though China and many Western countries have different governing systems, it is still crucial to understand why China’s system works for China and why Western systems work for the West, instead of trying to “impose your values.” Even though Chinese media often promote the CCP and its system of governance, it does not try to impose its system around the world. There is a reason why it is called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”: it is tailored to China’s condition.
When it comes to cultural racism, it is a bit harder but still possible to combat it. #StopAAPIHate does promote pride in one’s culture (see “I’m proud to be Asian” posters), which is good and something worth crediting for. But in addition to promoting pride in one’s ethnicity, we should also promote the cultures and traditions to other people, too.
I interviewed a friend of mine about racism and culture promoting. She said, “I remember my family and I would always go to the Japanese Bon Odori festival every summer in Indianapolis and it was really such a great way for the Japanese community to feel at home here in Indiana. In the recent years, there have been many more non-Asians showing up in traditional kimonos and eating all the food and dancing with us. It was such a beautiful thing to see these people want to be included in just a small part of Japanese culture in a respectful way. I really wish we could reflect that one moment in time back into today’s society.” Since hate and racism originate from a lack of understanding and/or willful ignorance about other ethnicities, non-Asians should make an effort to study the various, diverse cultures in Asia and their religions, traditions, and customs. We should teach people that hate brings the hater nowhere and ultimately hurts themselves more than the victim.
On policy, elected officials in the US must accept the reality that China is an equal, not inferior. Of course, China has its human rights problems, but there’s no use in continuously hyping it, especially when the US has human rights problems of its own. I am not a policy expert or a diplomat, but such rhetoric from elected officials still affects people’s perceptions of a people. It is easy to see how anti-China rhetoric turns into anti-Asian racism. I’ll say this again: You cannot separate a country from its people.
On education, keep educating yourself and keep advocating for curriculum reform. There are movements out there like Diversify Our Narrative fighting for just that, and some schools have taken steps to include a more diverse history perspective. But there are many schools that have yet to do any of that, and many of the schools that have done that include such history as elective courses, not core courses with AP and IB levels. Including such history as core courses or in the mainstream curriculum not only gives students a way to learn about racism, but also earn high-level credit. And I cannot stress the importance of this enough; as the old saying goes, if someone’s old enough to experience racism, then they’re old enough to learn about it.
Stop Asian Hate: Conclusion, and no cold war with China
I applaud my compatriots who make efforts to stop Asian hate, tell the Asian American story, spread Asian culture, debunk Asian stereotypes and get more people involved. However, I also urge these compatriots to look at anti-Asian racism just like anti-Black racism: systemic and institutional. Although the current situation is not as bad, it is still pervasive. We also need to challenge media narratives of “China threat” as it plays a large role in rising anti-Asian hate.
Since last year’s Black Lives Matter protest, many have called for the US to deeply reflect on its racist past and to make corrections to dismantle systemic racism. However, Stop AAPI Hate has yet to do this for Asian Americans. Though Asian Americans were not enslaved for a quarter millennia, nor leased as convicts and thoroughly segregated, nor imprisoned disproportionate to their population share, anti-Asian racism must be addressed like anti-Black racism, and actions must be taken to dismantle it. The suggested solutions above are some first steps, and there may be more and better ways to address racism. But we must move beyond talking and start walking.
Lastly, we must make concerted efforts to resist the US’ push for a cold war with China. China has its problems, but so does the US. War is not a good thing, and the last thing we need in the midst of a global pandemic, worsening economic conditions, already existing discrimination, and irreversible climate change is an unnecessary war with China. It worsens racism at home. It solves no one’s issues. But understanding and cooperation does.
Let’s #StopAAPIHate, for real this time.
Graphic by Chloe Sun, titled “Asian American Hate: Are we really un-American?” published on HiLite on April 24, 2021. Chloe is a co-editor-in-chief of HiLite Magazine, graphics designer at Rice & Spice Magazine, and graphics manager at Overachiever Magazine. This graphic highlights the prevalence of racism in society and how people get “surprised” when a major hate incident takes place.
Ian Sun is a junior high school student in the Greater Philadelphia area. He serves as the opinion section editor of Radnorite, his school’s newspaper. He enjoys writing, playing piano and percussion, and fiddling with computers. In his free time he enjoys reading up on the news and watching computer-related videos on YouTube. In the future, he aspires to work in a computer science-related industry. You can check out his Radnorite work at https://radnorite.com/staff_name/ian-sun/.
Cover Photo Source: