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Credit: Alice Heyeh

Racially motivated violence has become extremely prevalent this past year. But how much do you know about violence against Asian Americans? As we reach the one-year anniversary of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, Asian American hate has skyrocketed like never before — an issue that has unfortunately been overlooked by many.

Due to the pandemic’s origins in Wuhan, China, everything Chinese-related became the scapegoat for America’s suffering. Incited by former President Trump’s offensive vernacular that referred to the pandemic as the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” in addition to his promise to “make China pay,” xenophobia and Asian American hate have become more prevalent than ever.

But the issue is more than mere name-calling. One of the first Asian American hate crimes to make news over the past year occurred last spring when a Burmese man and his sons were grocery shopping at Sam’s Club, only to be violently stabbed in the face multiple times. In August 2020, an 89-year-old Asian woman was not only slapped in the face, but also had her clothes lit on fire. Over the past year, more and more videos have surfaced depicting Asian Americans being beaten, assaulted, verbally threatened, and robbed.

In fact, Asian American hate crimes have increased by 150% in major United States cities due to the pandemic. This past February, a 91-year-old man was violently pushed to the ground in Oakland, Calif.'s Chinatown, an 84-year-old Thai man was fatally attacked in San Francisco, and a 64-year-old Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed in San Jose, Calif. These recent racially motivated attacks, especially those inflicted upon the elderly, are incredibly sickening.

One of the most devastating attacks occurred on March 16, when six Asian women were shot and killed at Atlanta spas. Even more frustrating is the media’s apparent reluctance to label these murders as racially motivated hate crimes, despite the fact that Asian massage parlors were specifically targeted. Not only does this further oppress the Asian American community, it also diminishes their struggles. Due to the current trend of hatred and violence against Asian Americans in light of COVID-19, racism seems to be the only explanation for why such a despicable action could occur.

As the news continues to pile up with more and more Asians falling victim to racist acts of violence, fear and terror have been instilled in the entire Asian American community. Will it ever be safe to walk the streets in public? When will society finally see Asians as human beings?  

“I used to be afraid of walking the streets alone at night,” said Hebe Chen, a College first year. “But after seeing the videos of Asian American people and elders being verbally and physically assaulted, I noticed that, now, when I walk outside during the day, I subconsciously add more distance between me and the people walking towards me or next to me, as if I’m giving myself more reaction time in case someone would take out their hands and shove me too.” 

Especially now, given current rates of COVID-19 in America (especially compared to China), it is baffling that Asians are the ones still bearing the brunt of the blame. Sure, the pandemic may have started in China, but Americans are the worst at controlling the spread. As of March 17, the United States is leading the world with the most cases and deaths. Even worse, COVID-19 restrictions are easing up with the removal of mask mandates in Texas, Mississippi, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any hatred towards non-Asian Americans and their irresponsibility and carelessness regarding this fatal virus.

Furthermore, during Italy’s outbreak back in March 2020, Italian Americans did not face any major racially motivated hatred or violence. This is simply due to racism, as the virus has become solely associated with the people of Asian descent and, by extension, Asian culture as a whole. For instance, references to eating bats are racialized comments that serve to blame Asian culture and their consumption habits. This has consequently created an epidemic of hate, with Asians begging America to “fight the virus, not the people.”

“Racism and discrimination against the Asian community is nothing new in this country, and it's unfortunate that it takes a[n] ... increase of hate crimes for the issue to finally receive coverage from the mainstream media,” Chen added.

However, despite increased news coverage, many people are still unaware of these hate crimes. Sometimes known as the silent minority, Asians and their struggles are often overlooked and ignored. Even with social media and clear video footage of these horrendous attacks, more media coverage is necessary to shed light on such a serious issue. Furthermore, the widespread refusal to acknowledge these crimes, such as last night's attack, as racially motivated makes it especially challenging.

While Penn has certainly extended support and resources for students affected by such attacks, more can be done to spread awareness and help students feel safe. Given Penn’s large Asian population, as well as its location in Philadelphia, it is crucial for students of all different racial backgrounds to come together and understand the severity of this issue. Not only is it important to educate the Penn community, it is also necessary to help students like Chen feel safe and protected on their own campus. Simply offering reassurance is a step in the right direction, but Penn must make more meaningful strides in educating students on how to handle and prevent racial attacks.

Equally important — if not more — are the students themselves. Students must take an active role in creating a campus culture that reflects equality and inclusion for their Asian counterparts to feel safe and welcome during these unprecedented times. Each individual is responsible for their own actions, and racist actions can only be controlled by said person.

EMILY CHANG is a College first year studying sociology from Holmdel, N.J. Her email address is changem@sas.upenn.edu.

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