Try to tell me that anti-Asian hate crimes aren’t worth getting riled up about and I’ll tell you about a 91-year-old Asian American man walking on the sidewalk in Oakland’s Chinatown, minding his business when, suddenly, another man pushes him to the ground.
This video, in which Yahya Muslim, 28, was later identified as the violent man, went viral just last week. It’s certainly shocking—but unfortunately, it’s not the only video of its kind. In a similar clip recently circulated, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was aggressively shoved to the ground by a male attacker, later dying in the hospital from injuries caused by the fall.
Since the pandemic began last year, Asian Americans have faced increased racism country-wide. To put a number on it, Stop AAPI Hate has reported 2,800 incidents of violence against Asian Americans since last March. “We do know that the rise in anti-Asian racism…has had devastating impacts,” said Stop AAPI Hate’s co-founder, Cynthia Choi, in a recent press call. She didn’t sugar coat it, either: “Our community is fearful of being in public alone, simply going for a walk and living our daily lives,” she said.
It’s incredibly heartbreaking to acknowledge this surge in anti-Asian attacks—especially during Lunar New Year, which began on February 12 and will end on the 26. Traditionally, these 15 days and nights are filled with feasts, sacred red envelopes and, most importantly, the company of close friends and family. COVID-19 has certainly made large in-person gatherings all but impossible, so many have resigned to virtual celebrations for the second year in a row.
But it isn’t the group Zooms upsetting Asians across the country. It’s racism and racism alone that has put a dark spot on the lives of Asian Americans during what is supposed to be a joyous time of love and light.
Our community is fearful of being in public alone, simply going for a walk and living our daily lives
As a Chinese American high schooler, I’ve noticed the recent increase in racism against Asian Americans first-hand, not only on social media but in real life, too. Racist comments and beliefs have become almost normalized, as if deemed an acceptable point of view. For an essay I wrote last year, when anti-Asian hate brought on by the coronavirus was all around me, I reflected on the time a classmate asked if dog-eating (a common, incorrect stereotype about Asian Americans) was the cause of COVID-19.
Many have referred to the coronavirus as “The China Virus” or “Kung Flu,” placing an even bigger target on Asian Americans. When many of us first heard about the virus, we were concerned about it affecting our families back in Asia. In addition to experiencing coronavirus firsthand, though, we also had to endure a second, just as rapidly-spreading disease: racism.
Discrimination against people of Asian descent in America is nothing new. Just a few weeks ago, my Social Studies class learned about the buildup in nativism that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—the first time that a U.S. law had ever explicitly banned a specific nationality.
At the same time, Asian Americans were also being used as scapegoats, blamed for “stealing” American jobs. During World War II, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps. In 1982, Chinese American Vincent Chin was murdered by two automakers, his death meant to be a revenge for industry jobs lost to Japan.
In addition to violent acts, an entirely different kind of danger lies in the 21st-century stereotype of Asian Americans as the “model minority.” This notion is incredibly harmful, as it makes Asian Americans less likely to speak up about racism and more likely for non-Asians to diminish the severity of that xenophobia. Worse yet, the stereotype serves as a constant reminder that, no matter what, we’ll always be considered “other.”
Blame needs to be lifted, stereotypes need to be erased and Asian Americans need to feel accepted—and supported.
Soon after assuming office, President Joe Biden signed a memorandum condemning racism against Asian Americans during the pandemic, a notable step in the right direction. Vice President Kamala Harris has also spoken up against the recent surge in hate crimes on Twitter, proving that our government will no longer tolerate the anti-Asian racism that has for so long been engrained in our country.
In addition to government leaders, even Hollywood actors are stepping up in an effort to make change. Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu offered $25,000 as a reward to identify the attacker responsible for pushing the 91-year-old Asian American man in Oakland. When Muslim was eventually identified by the police, Kim and Wu donated the money to community organizations instead.
Other Asian American public figures who have spoken up include Amanda Nguyen, Gemma Chan and Olivia Munn, among others—and even social media is calling for users to be proactive. TikTok’s Discover Page now allows users to “Take Action” and donate to stop hate crimes against AAPI communities.
The only way to truly protect our community, though, is for this level of recognition and action to be taken by all. Blame needs to be lifted, stereotypes need to be erased and Asian Americans need to feel accepted—and supported. Even small acts of support are crucial to promoting major change, be they supporting local Asian-owned businesses (especially those that are suffering due to the pandemic) or donating to community groups like Stop AAPI Hate, Chinese Progressive Action and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Reading a pamphlet, abandoning stereotypes, shopping small, denouncing hate speech—these may seem like little things, but in a country where anti-Asian perspectives are tolerated and even encouraged, these small efforts are the start of larger and more long-term change. There’s still a long way to go to achieve racial equality, but every movement starts with a few small steps.