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17 March 2021updated 28 Jul 2021 6:47am

How anti-Asian hate crime has run through US history

The deaths of six Asian women after a shooting in Georgia come amid a sickening rise in violence against Asian Americans.

By Emily Tamkin

On Tuesday night (16 March), eight people were killed in massage parlours in the Atlanta area of the state of Georgia. Six of the eight were Asian women. Four, according to the South Korean foreign ministry, were of Korean descent. The person taken into custody was a 21-year-old white man whose social media posts reportedly include a profession of love for guns and God.

Authorities have not yet confirmed a motive for the killings. According to a news conference statement from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect told police that he had a sexual addiction.

But what is confirmed is that the victims were killed amid a sickening increase in violence against Asian Americans.

The overall hate crime rate in the US declined slightly from 2019 to 2020. But hate crimes committed specifically against Asian Americans and Asians in America increased by almost 150 per cent, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Since last March, there have been 3,800 reports of “hate incidents”, according to Stop AAPI Hate. Women reported incidents more than twice as frequently as men.

We know that in Oakland, California, Pak Ho, an elderly Asian man died after being assaulted and robbed on 9 March. This past Monday (15 March), a 59-year-old Asian man suffered head injuries after being attacked in San Francisco, which is also where Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Asian man, was attacked and killed earlier this year. Juanito Falcon, who was 74, was attacked and killed in Phoenix, Arizona earlier this month. His family said that they believed he was targeted for being Asian.

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We also know that former president Donald Trump insisted on referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus” and the “kung flu” while in office, despite the fact that Asian Americans said that they were being attacked and warned that such language was dangerous. In addition, Trump used the term “China virus” on Tuesday (16 March) while calling in to Fox News, just before news of the shooting broke. 

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Research from the University of California, Berkeley, has found that the belief that Americans of European descent are more “American” than Asian Americans declined between 2007 and 2020 – at which point the terms “Wuhan virus” and “China virus” were popularised by conservative politicians and the media, and the trend reversed.

And we know that in the US there is a long history of treating Asian Americans as the perpetual other and outsider. The Page Act of 1875 was ostensibly introduced to keep out unfree labourers and women who might arrive in the US to work as prostitutes. In practice, it was used by authorities to target and keep out East Asian, and especially Chinese, women. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the only major federal law that explicitly suspended immigration for a nationality. In 1923, when only white immigrants and “aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent” could naturalise to become US citizens, the Supreme Court ruled in United States vs Bhagat Singh Thind that Thind, an Indian Sikh, did not meet a “common sense” definition of white. In the Second World War, the US demanded people of Japanese descent relocate from their homes into camps, a decision the Supreme Court also upheld in its 1944 case Korematsu vs United States.

We know, in short, that the US has a long history of seeing people of Asian descent as perpetual foreigners; that people in the highest seats of power used rhetoric that Asian Americans said was making them less safe; that hate crimes against this community are on the rise; that elderly Asian people are being attacked; and that six Asian women were killed on Tuesday night.

We know this. The question is what we will do about it.

[See also: Anti-Semitism in the time of Trump]