ICHRRF expresses its serious concern at the escalation and a rise in hate-crimes against US citizens of Asian (particularly East Asian) descent to the highest levels, as President Joe Biden referred to violence in his first national prime-time address on the 11th of March. In the past year, around 3800 incidents of verbal or physical assaults on Asian-Americans have been reported, most of them in a professional business setting. It may be borne in mind that the Asian-American community under-reports racially motivated attacks out of fear and diffidence.
Racism against Asian Americans is not new, and what is now being reported may not even mark a significant 'spike' in absolute terms. However, the issue has gained sharper focus in this past year because of a public perception that Chinese food culture and hygiene are responsible for the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
Commentators have thrown light on the intersectional aspect of the violence, with a large majority of assaults directed against women of East Asian origin, thus indicating both racism as well as gender-based motivations.
Asian immigrants to the U.S., particularly East and South Asians, make a significant economic contribution to high-technology and services sectors, and form an important segment of the country's intellectual capital in research and development. Yet, since the earliest immigrants from those regions came in, they have been subjected to negative societal stereotypes, systemic government discrimination and attacks by random members of the public. Laws were promulgated to restrict or ban immigration from Asian countries. Chinese women immigrants used to be stereotyped as prostitutes, and South Asian immigrants used to be stereotyped as carriers of disease, many of them turned back at their port of landing for carrying easily treatable diseases such as hookworm. In the 1904 World Fair in Chicago, close to a thousand Filipinos were put on display as 'savages'. During World War II, Japanese-American citizens were interned in concentration camps, many of them losing all their possessions and wealth with no restitution or apology. While institutional discrimination today is not constitutionally protected after the passage of civil rights laws, the popular narrative continues to carry negative stereotypes about Asian Americans. Even the putatively positive stereotype of the 'model minority' casts them as a perpetual foreigner.
ICHRRF takes cognizance of geopolitical tensions that may have repercussions for racial tensions within the US, as China takes on an increasingly aggressive posture with respect to the US and its allies and strategic partners. While it is legitimate to criticize China for its treatment of Uighurs, its opaque handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and several other human rights issues, the framing of such news in racial or cultural stereotypes and displaying negative emotions against Asian Americans is counter-productive. It would be far more useful to work with Asian-Americans who are naturally inclined to work against a repressive communist regime in China.
ICHRRF places its confidence in the power of education and the role of popular media to correct negative stereotypes and misinformation in the public domain, and the willingness and awareness of American civil society to work towards this.