One need not look further than our current crisis -- COVID-19 -- to observe how death has racist preferences. Due to the long legacy of slavery, mass incarceration, and health and economic disparities, Black people in particular are the most vulnerable to dying from coronavirus complications. What's worse is that while the world seems to be operating on pause, the police have only carried on with their targeted violence against Black people. We are now months into the global pandemic, and while the virus still infects at an unprecedented rate, many are unwisely removing their masks and protesting for the reopening of the economy. Others are rightfully protesting the stolen life of Black people. The recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, as well as the recording of Amy Cooper threatening the life of Chris Cooper, are, unfortunately, not unprecedented. We are too familiar with this violence. Why then is there a surge to condemn anti-Asian racism?
It is true that the past few months have shown an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. On the one hand, the increase in anti-Asian racism demonstrates the fragility of the model minority myth. Asian Americans -- primarily those with class privilege -- are often designated as “honorary whites” or as people who occupy a close proximity to whiteness despite not being white. The pandemic has been swift to remind us of how exclusionary and conniving whiteness can be. To regard Asian Americans as model minorities is to disregard the historical and contemporary dangers of yellow peril, orientalism, and xenophobia. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to remember the long history that connects Asians to disease. The racialized charge against Asian Americans that we are seeing currently stems from a moment long before the novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China and well before western leaders weaponized rhetoric of “Chinese virus” or “kung flu.” We must remember that the first race-based immigration bans -- the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 -- both suggested Asians are more likely to carry and bring disease, and thus should be prohibited from entering the country. The racist myth that Asians host and disseminate disease and illness conveniently conceals the nation’s practice of white supremacy and, with it, the exclusion of certain immigrants.
Last month, Rachel Chang interviewed me for a piece on Anti-Asian racism in the context of the pandemic. Today, I find myself reiterating my point on
“thinking creatively” about more effective ways to report incidents and learning from Black community organizers “who have built alternative models of safety, support, and healing.”
I was asked about how traditional Asian cultures grapple with the politics of reporting hate crimes. The numbers show how Asian Americans are less likely to report harassment. Shame, citizenship status, and a distrust in or fear of law enforcement may impact whether an Asian person feels inclined to report a hate crime. Of course, the degree of the attack matters. We must recognize how violence functions on scales - stabbing, acid attacks, verbal assaults, the petrifying stares. While we may attempt to look past the microaggressions, they still bear a burden. The more explicit attacks are almost impossible to ignore. Calling the police very rarely results in rescue, and often only perpetuates violence. Police brutality persists even during quarantine. Asian Americans can learn a lot from those who organize against anti-Black racism. Community organizers in the transformative and restorative justice movements have built alternative models of safety, support, and healing. Anti-Asian racism is experiencing a devastating surge, but calling the police does more harm than good.
As APAHM comes to a close, the work to hold each other accountable continues. The celebration of culture and identity need not mean denying our complicity in systemic violence. We can begin by acknowledging the culpability of the unnamed Asian cop who watched as George Floyd died from being pinned to the ground by a white cop's knee. There is space for an understanding of anti-Blackness even as we are attacked for being Asian. The common enemy is white supremacy. So, for those like me - both Asian and queer - there is more work to be done in June *Pride month* when so much attention will be on celebration, I hope we make room for criticism: against white supremacy and its disproportionate targeting of Black life.