Videos of shocking street attacks. Insults shouted by politicians. Defamatory graffiti scrawled on the facade of commercial establishments.
Over the past year, Asian Americans have warned of the growing discrimination they have faced and witnessed, fueled in part by the racist rhetoric of former President Donald Trump and false statements made by him and other public officials about the coronavirus.
Celebrities, activists and influencers on social media have pleaded with people to fight hatred against Asian Americans in the Pacific Islands.
Then came the massacre of eight people shot dead in Georgia, including six women of Asian descent.
Amidst fear, sadness and pain, the murder sparked another emotion among some Asian Americans: outrage at the country’s long-standing inability to take discrimination seriously. against.
Some academics and activists said Tuesday’s massacre was not surprising, after officials and popular culture for years downplayed the dangers of anti-Asian prejudice and stereotypes.
Although Asian Americans, as well as other minority groups, have suffered a long history of deadly violence, the threats and discrimination they continue to face are often overlooked, seen as nothing more than abuses. harmless insults.
In many cases, some say, people are reluctant to even acknowledge that attacks on Asian Americans can be racially motivated. It happened on Wednesday, when a law enforcement officer in Georgia appears to have dismissed racial prejudice as the motivation for the massacre.
Instead, he said, the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, who is white, has had “a very bad day.” The official cited Long’s statement that his motivation was sexual coercion, not racism.
Even when anti-Asian violence is recognized as such, experts say, it is sometimes downplayed, seen as nothing more than an isolated incident, and not a fundamental part of the history of Asian Americans.
“There is a tendency not to believe that violence against Asian Americans is real,” said lawyer Angela Hsu, 52, from a suburb of Atlanta. “It’s almost like it takes something really, really brutal to make people believe that there is discrimination against people of Asian descent.”
Activists say without a better understanding of the dangers Asian Americans face, and without accepting that they are real, it is difficult to mobilize a national campaign – involving the police, the judiciary, the media and the public. – to fight against racism against people of Asian origin.
Many are now hoping that the tragedy in Georgia will lead to a firmer and more tangible effort to fight hatred against their communities.
Angela Hsu, for example, who chairs the Georgia Association of Asian and Pacific Lawyers, urged investigators to examine Skeptic’s claim that the massacre was motivated by sexual coercion with skepticism.
“The truth can be much more complicated than that,” she said, adding that it was important to identify the role that the race issue may have played. “This is an opportunity to discuss the larger issue, which is not sufficiently discussed.”
Perceptions of anti-Asian discrimination are influenced by complex factors. There is a great diversity in what it means to be Asian-American. This population includes people whose families have lived in the United States for generations and people from dozens of countries and under many different circumstances, including as refugees.
They have different levels of English language education and fluency and can be located at different points on the American political spectrum, sometimes depending on the issue at hand. Some of them, especially first generation immigrants, are less likely to report racism. Your children may be more likely to put their mouths on the paper clip.
Many people in America don’t know the history of Asian Americans, which is not taught enough in schools, said Erika Lee, professor of history and American studies. Asian at the University of Minnesota. Few people know, for example, of the lynching of 18 Chinese in Los Angeles in 1871 or the forcible return of Chinese by an angry mob to Seattle in 1886.
“I can’t even say how many times, even after many years of teaching, I have heard my students say in class, ‘I didn’t know this had happened’,” she said. .
There is also the stereotype that all people of Asian descent are successful economically and educationally, which can only lead to the mistaken assumption that the discrimination they face need not be so severe.
It is true that some of the Asian Americans who experience the worst violence are socially and economically marginalized people. They tend to be invisible to much of society. This fact only fuels the widespread neglect of anti-Asian violence, said Chris J. Lee, 33, founder of the Plan A Magazine website, which deals with the culture and politics of the United States. Asian origin.
“The kind of people who get murdered, like people who work in massage parlors or older Asians who make a living picking up cans – none of us really know them,” he said. .
The marginalization of Asian Americans has deep roots.
Chinese immigrants who built railroads and worked in gold mining in the 19th century were sent to San Francisco’s Chinatowns and other cities, rejected by financial institutions and often abandoned to survive of their own efforts.
Further immigration from China was limited by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first immigration law to target working-class immigrants from a specific country. It was followed in 1917 by the most restrictive immigration law in the country’s history, which barred immigrants from entering an area of Istanbul beyond Jakarta, eliminating almost anyone from one of the most populous regions of the planet. Asia.
Japanese residents of the United States have been kept away from white neighborhoods for decades, thanks to pacts written into real estate titles. Tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent were held in detention camps during World War II.
When immigration laws were liberalized in the 1960s, immigrants from Asia were able to enter the United States in unprecedented numbers.
In the wake of the attacks on the elderly in California’s Asian neighborhoods, some community leaders have called for an increased police presence. Others say that simply increasing the presence of police officers is not the solution.
Some are pressuring Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint an Asian American as California secretary of justice.
In a press conference on Wednesday, California State Representative David Chiu said the presence of an Asian American as the primary law enforcement official in the state was necessary to establish trust, “especially given the strained relationship between the law and immigrant communities. and non-white communities ”.
In the Atlanta area, where the Asian community has grown in recent years and gained more political influence, the massacre has rekindled anxieties that could be calming for some people, now that the end of the pandemic is in. view. When the pandemic started, Hsu, the lawyer, said she almost expected people to yell at her because she was of Chinese descent. Over the past few weeks, he said, she has let her guard down.
“We are coming out of the pandemic, we have a new president, we don’t hear about ‘Kung Flu’ (kung flu) and ‘Chinese virus’ all the time,” she said, referring to some. defamatory words used by Trump to describe the coronavirus. “I really convinced myself that it was already possible to leave the house safely.”