We’ve all heard of the recent attacks on AAPI members, such as the mass shooting in Atlanta or attacks by passersby on the streets. While many communities and organizations have mobilized to speak out against this violence and create resources for those affected, the number of incidents is only going up.
Whereas the nationwide overall number of hate crimes in 2020 decreased by 7%, it increased exponentially for crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders surpassing 140%.
However, the number could be even higher than that. There are concerns that the crimes are being underreported due to a culture of silence and fear of judgement.
Ky Cao, owner of the Philadelphia men’s clothing boutique “P’s and Q’s” and an Asian-American himself, explains the reasons why there might be an issue of underreporting the incidents.
“Asians in general don’t talk about these things,” said Cao. “With the uprise and hate and all that it’s really rare for Asians in general to be outspoken about this, they fear retaliation. This has been going on for a while, I feel like the strength and weakness of an Asian person is their silence. “
Ky also talks about the impact that the rising anti-sentiment has had on his family.
“My sister has a nail salon that was shut down before the lockdown just because of the racism they were experiencing,” said Cao. “It was a difficult time for her and myself. Employees were being pushed around, made fun of so we told them leave until things kind of died down. We shut down the nail salon because we didn’t want our employees to be harassed anymore.”
A recent survey conducted by the Philadelphia Chinatown Development corporation shows that over 76% of people who experienced a hate crime did not report it to the police due to language barriers and distrust of authority. 44% of the respondents also stated that they believe the incident they experienced was due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sean Yom, a professor of political science at Temple University believes that a lot of the increase in hate crimes can be attributed to the pandemic but it isn’t the sole culprit. AAPI communities have historically been scapegoated in times of crises.
“What the pandemic has done is recycle a very common instinct,” said professor Yom. “Much of the American mainstream tends to flex whenever there is a major global crisis or social dilemma that is connected to Asia, such as war, or this pandemic whereby feelings of exclusion, hatred and xenophobia rear their ugly heads. There is a tendency to scapegoat and an inclination on the part of American society to try to find the most foreign looking people who do not look like mainstream Americans and target them.”
The spike in hate crimes and anti-Asian sentiment can also be traced back to former U.S. president Trump’s remarks on the virus. He used phrases such as the “Chinese virus” which shifted blame on an entire demographic. Professor Sean Yom further comments on why this language has a negative effect on AAPI communities.
“When Trump made those very defamatory statements, he didn’t help the situation, said Yom. “At worst he threw gasoline on an already simmering fire and greatly inflamed the crisis. Words like that echo throughout the corners of our society and in communities that may not have a high amount of AAPI representation, and it tends to aggravate latent prejudice and racism. I think it has a destructive effect in acting to catalyze something that was already present: deeply ingrained biases towards those that have AAPI heritage. “
Many communities have come together to establish a solutions-based approach to this crisis. Grassroot organizations have staged rallies in support and solidarity of AAPI as well as marches across the country.
At a March rally in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, Pennsylvania state senator, Sharif Street called on politicians and other people with power to step up and find ways to deal with the rise in hate and violence. He also commented on the speech used around the Atlanta mass shooting where Capt. Jay Baker, a spokesperson for the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, said the shooter had “a bad day” and that’s why he went on a murderous rampage.
“People who are in positions of authority like me need to stand up,” said Street. “Authorities create a permissions structure and suggest this is ok. It’s not. It is true that somehow blaming the virus on the Asian community and the deeply bigoted comments contributed to this environment. The words of people in power have an effect. We have to learn to see each other’s humanity.”
At another rally in Montgomery County, communities came together to share stories and support one another.
Jenna Antoniewicz, the mayor of Royersford borough, furthers the point that more people need to engage in ways to shed light on the issue in order to create a meaningful change.
“I think change really starts with us,” said Antoniewicz. “I think we see the news and think that what happens over there doesn’t apply to us and we get so inundated and swamped all the time with headlines. We become numb to it. Our communities are where change happens and so if someone hears something today and is able to apply that to their lives and interactions with neighbors or colleagues then we did our job. It shouldn’t take a national crisis in order to have these conversations. This has been going on for many years a lot of folks thought this was a new thing but there has been decades and decades of this happening.”
She along with others in Montgomery county started a pledge in honor of Asian heritage month. Allies are encouraged to sign their name and show their support. You can find this page here.