The following section includes content of the history and current presence of anti-Asian rhetoric and prejudice. This content may be sensitive to those who align with Asian or Asian-American backgrounds or other people who share an Asian identity.
What is happening?
As you may have seen on the news, heard from friends or family members, or experienced yourself, a string of burglaries, hate crimes, and murders have targeted Asian and Asian Americans. From the murder of an 84-year-old Thai elder here in the Bay Area to the slashing of a Filipino man’s face in New York to the murder of 6 Asian women working in massage parlors in Atlanta, these violent attacks have left Asian communities in mourning, terrified of further harm, and left exposed without protection.This has prompted communities to take protection into their own hands, from instituting night and neighborhood patrols to an increase in firearms to larger calls for mutual aid and community care.
These horrific attacks build upon the open wounds of the harassment and hate crimes towards Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) that have risen drastically during the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the use of terms like “China Virus” and continued blame of COVID-19 spread on China, AAPI individuals have been targeted. Organizations tracking these crimes have recorded 3000 and counting different crimes, a number likely to be underreported. While this may be the most recent manifestation of a long history of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant sentiment within the United States, these hate crimes layer on top of anti-South Asian hate crimes in the wake of 9/11 and lay bare the long-standing institutional and societal racism that systematically targets AAPI communities and individuals.
Why is this happening?
Though hate crimes towards Asians and Asian-Americans have skyrocketed during COVID-19,, the U.S. has had a long history of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“Yellow peril” was a term long used to describe the growing threat of other nations and peoples, but was appropriated to describe Asian migrants in the U.S. in the late 1800s as more Chinese laborers began to enter the country. Preying upon fears of invasion, accusations of uncleanliness, and the idea that Chinese workers were taking American jobs, the images of “yellow peril” fueled hate crimes like the Massacre of 1871, the Page Law of 1875 that targeted Chinese women immigrants by labeling them as “immoral”, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882- the first U.S. law to bar immigration solely based on race.
On top of the growing threat of the “yellow peril”, the eugenics movement took hold of U.S. society and policies in the early 1900s, asserting that in order to maximize the human race, the passing of undesirable and inferior traits through generations should be curtailed. This was used as a “scientific” foundation in creating a hierarchy of races and providing support for legal discrimination, forced sterilization, and many other racist and ableist practices. This pervasive ideology also kept alive the idea of unclean, inferior, and uncivilized Asian bodies.
Building upon these ideas of racial and cultural superiority and fears of “invasion”, anti-Asian rhetoric was used to rationalize U.S. imperialism of Asia’s land, resources, and its people. Propaganda around conflicts with various Asian countries, growth and expansion of Asian countries and economies, and racist Asian U.S. media representations fueled continued anti-Asian violence as seen in Vincent Chin’s murder and the internment of Japanese Americans.
In updating the hierarchy of races established by eugenics, Asians slowly began to be seen as the “Model Minority” due to multiple factors, the largest one being that they simply “weren’t black”. By expanding on examples of Asian “success” in the U.S. through educational and financial outcomes (though by no means universal for all Asians), racism and systemic violence towards Black folks was maintained, while reminding Asians that their Model Minority membership was conditional upon their passivity and economic contribution. This Model Minority myth continues to obfuscate the diverse experiences of low income Asians, immigrant and undocumented Asians, Asian women and femmes, queer Asians, and other Asian communities.
What does this have to do with COVID-19?
With the source of the virus originating in China and the U.S. President insisting on using the term “Chinese Virus”, COVID-19 was thus racialized, fueling stigmatization towards anyone even thought to be Chinese. Building upon old “Yellow Peril” messaging of “unclean conditions in China”, invading foreigners, and “barbaric” eating practices, media and political messaging once again turned Asians into the scapegoat for COVID-19. Thus stoking fear and hatred and spurring violent attacks against Asians, Asian elders, and Asian women.
What can I do?
With so much hatred anti-Asian hatred happening, it can feel overwhelming, saddening, maddening, and discouraging to fight the interlocking systems of oppression that embolden white supremacy and discrimination. To help make this ongoing fight more tangible and supported, here are a few beginning steps to take in order to fight against anti-Asian hatred:
While this page focuses on anti-Asian sentiment and harassment, these issues do not exist in a vacuum. First, it is imperative to recognize that our efforts to support our AAPI community goes hand in hand with supporting all who are impacted by unjust systems, including fighting anti-Blackness, homophobia, etc. A³C has compiled a phenomenal list to get you started. Second, to fight against these systems takes continued learning and continued self-care; social justice work necessitates humility, ongoing education, and self-preservation. Taking care of ourselves ensures that we can continually and sustainably strive for liberation.
Engage in ongoing learning
Continue to learn about the vast amount of cultures, histories, and ethnicities under the pan-Asian umbrella from Asian and Asian American scholars, cultural figures, and activists. Learn about anti-Asian historical roots at Stanford, Asian American history here at Stanford, engage with the A³C events and programming, or take Asian American Studies courses. Check out The Sourcebook, a biannual publication by Stanford’s Asian-American Activities Center, that highlights the history of Asian-Americans at Stanford, resources for folks of different AAPI backgrounds, and details other resources and helpful information for students, authored by Asian and Asian-Americans on campus.
Learn about the vast diversity of cultures under the pan-Asian umbrella. Register for AAJC’s bystander intervention training to stop anti-Asian hate and harassment or engage in a self-guided training.
In your ongoing education about Asian American history, diversity, and activism, continue to unlearn messages about the “Model Minority” Myth and other ways white supremacy creates wedges between communities of color. Diversify your media, news, and entertainment: watch narratives of AAPI people and continuously question Asian stereotypes in the media. Follow AAPI artists and influencers. Absorb books, op-eds, and podcasts by AAPI people.
Share resources with your communities like this Asian American Feminist Antibodies zine, this brochure on how to fight microaggressions by pioneering psychologist Dr. Derald Wing Sue, as well as this comprehensive Anti-Asian Violence Resources site.
Reporting to organizations and databases that keep track of incidents may help gather data, raise awareness, and procure resources. Here are some such organizations that are tracking harassment Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA), Report Harassment (incident report form) to Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (English, Chinese, Korean, Korean, Thai, Japanese), and The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is collecting and recording reports of hate incidents/crimes.
Sometimes, sharing your story to advocacy groups can raise awareness, help other people know they’re not alone, and help you feel heard and not in isolation. If sharing your story and hearing others sounds helpful to you, here are some places to start: Stand Against Hatred is a reporting and storytelling site produced by Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the #IAMNOTAVIRUS campaign is a photography and storytelling series which challenges negative perceptions of AAPI individuals surrounding the COVID-19 crisis. You can request an appointment to share your story, be photographed, or report a hate incident to the campaign.
For more information on coping with harassment, reporting online abuse, reporting an incident at Stanford, and more, check out the Harassment & Hate Towards Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders during COVID-19 resource and support page.
Allyship & Advocacy
While learning and empathizing is integral, it is not the whole journey. It is important to leverage one’s privileges and social positionality to ally with AAPI communities and advocate for changes that will help them. Take action towards equity and healing. The following are some examples of how to take action:
- Dispel inaccurate information about stereotypes and COVID-19 and provide accurate information.
- Retell histories of AAPI immigration, cultures, and communities. Decenter the United States and Western history and remind people of the Asian origins of many practices in the U.S. like yoga.
- Use your consumer power to send messages about the continued exploitation of Asian cultural pieces and cultural appropriation.
- Use your voice, energy, time resources, talents, and unearned privileges to ally with AAPI communities.
- As you engage in action, be mindful of ways you can share the burden of emotional labor because you have the capacity to do so.
- Leverage your consumer power by supporting local businesses and spaces owned and run by AAPI folx.
Exercise your vote to change systems.
As the previous section illustrated, change can come from pressure on our legal systems. Vote in leaders who advocate for AAPI communities and issues that affect them. Do your jury duty. Vote for legislation and inform yourself about policies that protect Black communities and their rights. Continue to march, protest, sign petitions until change is made.