On March 16, eight people were killed at Asian-owned spas in Georgia. Their names were Xiaojie Tan, Hyun Jung Grant, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels, and three whose families have requested privacy. Six of those killed were women of Asian descent. This heinous act is not an isolated event; rather, it exists in the midst of so many others: the 65-year-old Filipina woman attacked on her walk, the Asian woman stalked at her bakery, the 84-year-old Thai man shoved and killed on his morning stroll.
These crimes have instilled true fear into many East and Southeast Asians and Asian Americans throughout their daily lives. I see this in the way my physically active roommate now orders Ubers for short distances. In the way my best friend calls me from California, scared for her mother to walk their dog. In the way I find myself holding on tightly to my friend as we walk through gas station aisles. They are scared, I am scared for them — we are all living in fear.
I grew up in Dearborn, Mich., a place home to majority white and Arab populations, and did not have a friend of Asian descent until college. It was early into freshman year on a bus ride back from Meijer Mania when I met Angela, who would soon become my close friend. Sitting on the floor of our 10-by-10 Mary Markley Residence Hall rooms, we spilled stories of our lives. As we laughed about strict immigrant parents, home-cooked meals that we missed and teachers who butchered the pronunciations of our names, I learned quickly what I already knew — as people of color, we are all more alike than we are different.
And while we can enjoy each other’s company and relish in the empathy of people with shared experiences, it is not enough. I am calling for more.
Racialized violence against Asians and Asian Americans increased by almost 150% in 2020, largely due to the Trump administration’s racist rhetoric surrounding COVID-19. But it is important to understand that anti-Asian and Asian-American racism has been perpetuated by the United States for centuries, which is demonstrated by the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first and only law that prohibited immigration on the basis of ethnicity the 1942 executive order 9066, which incarcerated anyone suspected of treason and largely targeted citizens of Japanese descent; and absent and brushstroke media portrayals that gave way to the construction of the submissive model minority and the hypersexualization of Asian women –– the latter present in the University of Michigan’s own administration.
In the wake of COVID-19, xenophobic rhetoric towards East and Southeast Asians and Asian Americans has amplified this long-standing racism, giving voice to hatred. The mistreatment and negative depictions of Asians through politicians and media, and the consequential rise in hate-based violence, is a methodological pattern that has been used throughout the 21st century to bolster racism.
Asians and Asian Americans are suffering by the hands of white supremacy that has constructed legislation and media for centuries. The systems that create and uphold a society in which this hate and violence take place against Asians and Asian Americans are the same that serve to promote violence and oppression against Black, Indigenous and other peoples of color.
In 2015, when Trump launched his campaign, his racism stood at the center of every issue, calling Mexicans rapists and proposing that a border would stop crime and drug use, despite having no factual grounding. The attacks by Trump on Latinx populations led to a rise in hate violence, per the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism; in 2018, nearly four out of 10 Latinx individuals in the U.S. said they had experienced racism in the last year, and reported discimination targeting the Latinx community increased nearly 80% in California from 2016 to 2019. This demonstrates the parallels of racist rhetoric and portrayal by politicians and media that support and create racism among people of color, seen during the Trump era against Latinx communities, and today against Asian and Asian Americans.
Similarly, in the wake of 9/11, Arab Americans, South Asian Americans, Muslim Americans and Sikh Americans were the targets of widespread hate crimes. Racial and faith-based violence spread throughout the United States, showcasing how a collective was wrongfully blamed and harmed for the act of a few. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump’s references to the virus as “the Chinese virus” worked to do the same, blaming Asians and Asian Americans for the spread of a virus that had nothing to do with them. The parallels between upticks in racialized violence and the acts by politicians and media that motivates them is not coincidental, but instead demonstrates the systems used to oppress and strike fear and harm against minority groups and showcases the need for our communities to come together against them.
I call to my East and Southeast Asian friends and peers because I understand and know their fear. I know they are watching over their friend who walks into a store the same way I watch over my visibly Muslim friends. I know they fear for their elderly as they go about their day the same way I feared for my grandmother in the wake of the “Muslim Ban.” I know we all live under the same systems of oppression and racism that fill day-to-day life with endless what-ifs and fears.
As violence rooted in racism against East and Southeast Asians and Asian Americans continues across the nation, it is the responsibility of oppressed communities to band together in support. The systemic white supremacy that cloaks the “American Dream” is not intended to protect or preserve any one person of color. It is imperative that Black, Indigenous and people of color stand together. Stand together for hope, stand together for protection, stand together for survival.
It is imperative that during these times we continue to educate ourselves and give support in all the ways we can — to be true allies. If you do not know where to start, Michigan in Color created, in their statement on anti-Asian violence, this document with resources, organizations, collectives, places to donate and volunteer.
MiC Columnist Layaill Mustafa can be contacted at email@example.com.