What you need to know
In the face of recent violent attacks, the Asian American community reflects on systemic oppression and turns to community-based solutions.
In recent months, reports of anti-Asian attacks have left communities across the United States bereft. Already shaken by the and effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Asian Americans have found themselves contending with the legacy of and “” status as they face xenophobic violence. At the same time, the attacks have occasioned a remarkable rise in collective action to protect Asian American communities along with searching discussions on policing and justice.
The tenuous relationship between the Asian diaspora and inclusion has a long historical precedent, tracing through many generations and demographics included under the umbrella of Asian America. Asians have been “” to work on plantations and the transcontinental railroad, welcomed for “,” and — only to be excluded from or , into and , and .
Post-1965 immigration policy has prioritized state-defined skilled immigrants and those with advanced degrees, leading to an into the professional classes. Yet Asian American income distribution is the “” — reflecting a stark contrast between the Asian American upper class and the poor and working class, not to mention the one and may be hesitant to fill out surveys. On top of the economic and cultural divides of an identity that spans a continent, Asian Americans of all backgrounds remain underrepresented in and the .
So while Asian , , and are welcomed into the United States, the surge of xenophobia and anti-Asian attacks is a reminder that this welcome has limits. As Laila Lalami , “Conditional citizens are people who know what it is like for a country to embrace you with one arm, and push you away with the other.” Or, as the actor John Cho has said, Asian Americans have been reminded again that their “.”
Terms like “China Virus” and the “Kung Flu” gained currency as many Americans honed in on a scapegoat for Covid-19. Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have in 2020 compared to the year before, and recorded between March and December 2020. Accounts of Covid-related verbal and physical attacks have been in the media and throughout communities.
More attacks have been garnering attention among communities and in the media this past month. Coinciding with Lunar New Year, there have been dozens of attacks, some fatal, on Asian American elders in , , , and beyond. A from (CCED) described this violent time as “a boiling point” after “a painful year of simmering anti-Chinese rhetoric, xenophobia, right-wing extremism.” CCED connected these incidents to the prevailing violence of gentrification and policing, identifying them as “systems that endanger our loved ones, that tell the world their lives and dignity aren’t worth protecting.”
Many high-profile celebrities have spoken out against the violence, including actors Daniel Wu and Daniel Dae Kim, who on the suspects of Bay Area attacks. This move has been who oppose a persecution-centered approach and advocate for an anti-policing solution: “I’m hurting, and I want justice, too — but not from a white supremacist policing system that disproportionately targets and kills Black Americans.” Melissa Pandika for Mic. Jay Caspian Kang, writing on reactionary discourse surrounding the attacks, “the climate of fear and the unsaid conversations could lead to vigilantism or a false accusation against a Black defendant.”
Asian Americans are targets for the police as well, suffering from , , and . wrote in a that “community-centered programs and mental health services as more effective and humane alternatives to law enforcement interventions for overcoming fear, harm, and structural barriers to creating safe, inclusive, and healthy communities,” highlighting the need for solidarity between Asian and Black Americans in the face of a shared struggle at the hands of the police.
Many community-based solutions have been brought up in order to protect Asian Americans. The Oakland Chinatown Commission is to join their Chinatown Ambassador Program and pairs with . Similar initiatives exist in San Francisco () and New York City ().
Grassroots initiatives have also been established to share material resources in the Asian American community. has compiled a in LA’s Chinatown, The raises money for donations to underserved New York City shelters, and Asians 4 Abolition has for community fridges. The has compiled a that includes mutual aid networks, workers’ rights information, disability justice, and more in the greater Boston area.
Cathy Park Hong , “The most damaging legacy of the West has been its power to decide who our enemies are, turning us not only against our own people... but turning me against myself.” Indeed, American ideology has pinned the blame of Covid-19’s deadliness on the foreign and unfamiliar, and Asian Americans are paying the price. With the response of community-based action, and the critical discussion on abolition, however, there is hope that Asian Americans can work to heal and build a more equitable society.
TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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