The History of Anti-Asian Rhetoric in the United States
By: Irish Padilla
Anti-Asian sentiments are tales as old as time. Americans often believe that racism against Asian Americans is fictitious. Those outside of the community often argue that because of the “model minority” stereotype, Asian Americans don’t face racially charged stigmas or prejudices. This course of thought gave way for the historical violence against Asian Americans to go overlooked, and for Asian voices to be continuously silenced. The tragic shooting that took the lives of six Asian women is a symptom of a deadly disease in America: white supremacy. Despite the fact that officials still have not deemed a clear motive for the shooting, racially motivated violence should not be rebranded as sexual addiction or economic insecurity. And yet, the unfortunate event that transpired in Atlanta is not the first incident of Anti-Asian rhetoric in America. In fact, it dates back centuries.
People V. Hall 1854
White supremacy that we see today is concurrent with historical incidences of Asian-American discrimination. In 1854, the California Supreme Court ruled that people of Asian descent had no right to testify against a white person in court, essentially allowing white people to get away with anti-Asian violence without consequence.
The Chinese Massacre of 1871
Asian American history is often erased from textbooks. Consequently, much of the violence that the Asian community has endured for centuries is forgotten. In 1871, 20 Chinese Americans were lynched in Los Angeles when a white mob entered old Chinatown and attacked, robbed, harassed and murdered residents. This event would later be one of the largest lynchings in U.S. history.
Chinese Exclusion Act
While we are in the midst of witnessing a wave of xenophobia in light of anti-Asian sentiments from COVID-19, xenophobia has plagued Asian Americans in the legal arena for centuries. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion act which barred Chinese immigration for 20 years. Asian Americans were coined as the “yellow peril”: dangerous and unsuitable to be citizens. This law was rooted in fear that these immigrants would disrupt American values.
Japanese Internment in World War II
In times of uncertainty and fervent tension, scapegoating and antipathy flourishes. This environment is a breeding ground for the dehumanization of minorities. In 1942, we can recall the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the heat and aftermath of World War II, where people of Japanese descent were forced to relocate and isolate.
SARS to COVID-19
America has a turbulent, tragic and long history of scapegoating its Asian American citizens in the height of national health crises. Similar to COVID-19, when SARS hit in 2003, healthcare workers and citizens were subjected to intense stigmatization and prejudices. In this period, many Chinese and Filipino workers lost their jobs and faced aggressive discrimination. This time in history would set a precedent for similar racism that has been aimed at Asian Americans during COVID-19, where former political leaders would refer to the pandemic as “the China virus," “the Wuhan virus,” and the “Kung Flu.”
Fetishization of Asian Women
Throughout history, Asian American women have been undermined from harmful stereotypes and seen as commodities only meant for sexual gratification. If we are to talk about the violence that the Asian American community has endured, it’s important to bring to light about the dangerous fetishization of Asian women and how it plays into the events that transpired in Georgia and beyond.
To imply that racism and sexism are two entirely unrelated motivations is harmful and untrue for many Asian American women. Racism and sexism are two experiences that Asian American women endure simultaneously. For us, it’s inseparable. The way that race and gender intersect with one another leaves Asian women marginalized and vulnerable to the violence that is percolating. Throughout history, Asian American women were constantly hypersexualized, dating back to the Page Act of 1875 that barred Chinese female immigration under the assumption that they were coming as prostitutes. This notion still overwhelmingly exists in our country today, where Asian women are affected economically and socially in the rise of hate and violence. Service workers are especially at risk, namely those who work in massage parlors. It is racist to assume that all Asian owned massage businesses provide sexual services. The more that we don’t call out these racist incidents for what they are, the more room we allow for these types of violences to be overlooked.
It’s time that we open up the dialogue about the racism that is so rampant within our country. Because of the narratives that are often placed on the Asian community, it’s easy for our voices to be drowned out by the noise of model minority stereotypes and the erasure of anti-Asian sentiments. What we need is meaningful conversation and systemic change. None of this will happen overnight, but it’s important to make purposeful steps in the right direction. Have those hard conversations and engage in inter-community and interracial dialogues. Support AAPI organizations and continue to share and provide community resources. One of the most invaluable things that you can do for the Asian community is to educate surrounding communities about the role that Asian Americans have had in this country. Once people start recognizing that we are part of this country and not merely just foreigners, we can begin to know real change.