"Words like torches in a sea of fog"

Written by Stefano Cisternino

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14 May 2021

Anti-asian hate crimes in the midst of the Pandemic

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As we all know the year 2020 was characterised by the Covid-19 pandemic. A year when the extent of inequality was made obvious.

Partially-legitimised by Corona’s Wuhan origin, it was also a violent year for the Asian-American community. Since the pandemic began, there has been a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes across the United States. With the Asian community becoming the scapegoat for the spread and devastation of the virus.

On 17 March 2021, in the suburbs of Georgia, eight people of Asian descent were killed across several massage parlours. Six of these victims were women. 

And this event is not isolated. 

According to Stop AAPI Hate, in 2020  there were over 3,800 reported forms of xenophobic and gender-based violence towards the Asian-American community. Up from 2,600 cases in 2019, and might only reflect one-tenth of the cases that actually occurred. 

And unfortunately, it does not look hopeful for 2021. Between January and March of this year, there were 503 reported cases of extremism towards members of the Asian-American community. 

According to combined data by Gover et al. and Stop AAPI Hate, significantly more women (68%) than men (29%) are victims of violence. The authors argue that institutionalised processes and exclusionary policies are to blame for the increased aggression towards the Asian American community. For example, high tax burdens, school and housing segregation, restrictions on land ownership, and barriers to immigration and Asian citizenship.

In my view, I interpret this as symbolic of the growing and alarming intersection of racism and sexism. Indeed, this violence highlights the ways in which women, and particularly migrant women, are blamed or even killed because of their identity.

One reason for this might be the hypersexualisation of Asian women in US history, culture and media. These stereotypes have perpetuated, and even normalised, misogyny and racism against Asian women. Particularly towards those working in health clubs and massage parlours, who have been stereotyped as sex workers.

Yet the virus is not solely responsible. During his presidency, Donald Trump reinforced white supremacist narratives with a prominent ‘Chinese virus’ discourse. This likely provoked and encouraged violent attacks in the midst of a global pandemic. 

The result is that racial inequality has been reproduced through the age-old ‘us’ versus ‘them’ rhetoric. This relegates Asian Americans and particularly women to the bottom of the social hierarchy. Maliciously marking them as disease carriers and unworthy of the same rights and treatment as those at the top: Americans white population. This perception has led to a climate in which Asian Americans are more vulnerable to forms of racial aggression, including hate crimes.

And while this pandemic will pass, hatred and intolerance may remain as its bitter legacies.



Read Gover, Harper and Langton’s full paper.

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