Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the most recent attacks on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community across this country. What people are failing to realize is that this is not new.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization thatfocuses on addressing anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, there have been 3,795 reported incidents of racism and discrimination committed against Asian Americans across the United States between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021. Taking into account general mistrust in the police and the tendency toward underreporting incidents, this is most likely an underrepresentation.
Let that sink in.
While the perpetrators of these heinous attacks are of various ethnic backgrounds, a troubling trend has arisen in recent reporting which hyper focuses on instances of Black on Asian crime specifically. This reads as an attempt to lessen blame on white supremacy while feeding into the trope of Black-Asian conflict for the sake of sensationalism.
Throughout this country, there is the false belief that gains for one means loss for another. This zero-sum ideology is the biggest threat to people of color advancement; it sets us as competitors against each other for the goal of ‘success’ when, in reality, how do we define success? Economic and social equity — or more simply, that stuff that white people have had access to this whole time.
There’s so much language about taking, stealing, tricking — opportunities, jobs, money, business, prosperity, happiness. This type of language can be found in former President Donald Trump’s speeches from the past year, where he repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic. Before that, he blamed Latinx people for high unemployment rates.
In this way, immigrants are classified as foreign, and anything done against them is retribution for a crime already committed. Even if this particular individual is not the one who supposedly ‘stole all the jobs,’ they are taken to be representative of the entire community. This rhetoric leads to hate and ultimately the influx of inexcusable violence that we’ve seen committed against the Asian American community.
It’s important to note that the AAPI community is extremely diverse; the East Asian experience is not the same as the South Asian experience is not the same as the Central Asian experience is not the same as the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander experience. Add to this the differing socio-political climates of the U.S. and the generation gap in ideology, and you’re left with a very complicated situation.
Simply put, Asian people were encouraged to immigrate to this country under the pretense of more opportunities. The reality is that the white man wanted a cheap labor force to replace the newly emancipated — and growing — Black population. First the Chinese, then the Japanese, then Koreans and so on and so forth, each wave was brought in to replace the workforce that came before.
Influenced by xenophobia, imperialism, fears of the Red Wave and plain ole racism, white U.S. sought only to profit off of the labor of people of color at the lowest possible cost. Whether intentionally or not, the selective and systemic discrimination of people of color communities has set us against each other, to the point where we see each other as competitors for the shared goal of basic human rights.
The 60’s saw the height of the civil rights movement and the creation of the ‘model minority’ myth. In UC Berkeley sociology professor William Petersen’s 1966 New York Times article, he used the phrase to argue that Asians — by hard work, dedication to traditional family structures and the rule of law — had succeeded over African Americans in reaching economic and social equality.
This implication that Black people don’t value or practice the aforementioned qualities has cemented into stereotypes of both communities perpetuated today. Keep in mind, this all came from a man (who’s white), which was then circulated by the media (also white), which then trickled down into consumers’ waiting mouths to be regurgitated as supposed fact.
Generations of misinformation have compounded into this monster of division that we are now faced with. A large part of this is due to the ongoing campaign of cultural misrepresentation in public media. Film, news, television — all aspects of U.S. pop culture are stained with racist representations of Asian and Black people. This tainted media landscape is then digested by people at home and abroad, creating false images and feeding into power-based biases.
The recent string of hate crimes against members of the AAPI community has exposed the longstanding gaps in media coverage of people of color issues. Just as George Floyd wasn’t the first to be murdered by police using the knee-on-neck hold and Breonna Taylor’s was not the first house entered without a warrant, this is not the first time Asian Americans have been targeted or used as a scapegoat. Yet this is what current reporting would have you believe: all of a sudden, Asians are being attacked.
Despite this being blatantly untrue, it makes sense. No matter their ideological leanings, news outlets are biased. Not only do people push their own agendas, they are ultimately controlled by money — professional journalists don’t write for free. That means their work — which we take as truth — is controlled by people who don’t have the people’s best interests at heart. Ultimately, the news we watch has an agenda, which is to increase viewership.
In the face of this current division, it is important to remember the demonstrations of unity and support between the two communities: Frederick Douglas’ speaking out against the Chinese Exclusion Act, Yuri Kochiyama and Malcolm X’s alliance, Black resistance to the Phillipine-American War and the Vietnam War, AAPI participation in the Black Lives Matter protests.
While the model minority is definitely a myth, there is an undeniable privilege that comes with being not-Black. However, this privilege — given by white U.S — only extends to a certain point. We are now at that point. These horrific hate crimes are a wake-up call that, in the end, we are all pawns in the white man’s game. The longer we stand against each other, the longer our goal remains out of reach.