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History of Anti-Asian Rhetoric

Published April 14, 2021

The recent hate crimes towards Asian Americans unveils the United States' history of xenophobia.  

On Tuesday, March 16th, eight people, including six Asian women, were murdered in three Atlanta, Georgia spas. The suspected gunman was charged with eight counts of murder, claiming that he had a sex addiction and felt compelled to eliminate the spas to fight his temptation. While he also denied that the crime was racially motivated, authorities established that it was too early to rule out a hate crime.

This atrocity is just one of the 3,795 incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate between March 19th, 2020, and February 28th, 2021. This number is a fraction of the rising rate of harassment, verbal abuse, and physical violence that the Asian American community experiences. Activists have worked tirelessly within the last year to bring awareness to the anti-Asian rhetoric that persists through unprovoked attacks. Unfortunately, it was not until early March when an elderly Asian man in Oakland, California, ignited media attention as yet another victim of senseless physical abuse that conversations surrounding the ongoing acts of hate sparked. The recent murders of the elderly Asian women in Atlanta are a culmination of the wave of hate and violence that perpetuates the pandemic and highlights the growing racism needed to minimize the prevalence of Asian American hate crimes. Anti-Asian sentiments, however, did not begin with the spread of COVID-19 in China. Racism against Asians is interwoven with America's history and serves as a reminder that the pandemic unveiled the consistent xenophobia in the United States.

In 1875, the Page Act restricted "undesirable" immigrants from entering the United States. This significantly impacted women from China, Japan, and other East Asian countries perceived as "lewd and immoral." The few women who attempted to immigrate were often subject to humiliating and discriminatory medical exams and interrogations by United States immigration officials. This federal legislation contributed to the hyper-sexualization and objectification of East Asian women in the media. Less than ten years later, the first and only law implemented to prevent members of a specific ethnicity and nationality from immigrating to the United States was passed. President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, suspending Chinese immigrants from entering the United States for ten years and prohibiting Chinese immigrants from acquiring citizenship. This legislation was in response to the influx of Chinese immigrates searching for work in California during the Gold Rush and China's crop failure in 1852. This federal legislation did not appear out of thin air. Xenophobic beliefs and behavior were steadily expanding throughout the country. Chinese immigrants were also unable to testify in court because of the Supreme Court's decision in People v. Hall in 1854, preventing Chinese immigrants from fighting for justice or speaking up on the persistent discrimination and violence they faced. The Foreign Miners Tax of 1852 was another racially motivated law in California that forced miners who were not U.S. citizens to pay a tax of $20 to mine in the state. The Chinese Exclusion act remained after the initial ten years when the Geary Act of 1892 extended the ban on Chinese immigration for another ten years. Chinese immigrants were banned permanently from 1902 until 1943, when the Magnuson Act repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act. 

This brief historical summary of the United States' relationship with Asian countries highlights the idea of white purity that America desperately tried to preserve. Chinese immigrants were banned for over six-decade because Americans viewed them as a racial threat that needed to be eliminated to maintain their country's racial hierarchy. While many of these laws are no longer effective, anti-Asian sentiment is still prevalent in the United States. In July 2020, an 89-year-old Asian woman was set on fire, but there was no investigation of this hate crime. On February 25th, an Asian man was stabbed in New York City's Chinatown; the crime initially was not investigated as a hate crime because the instigator claimed that he was not motivated by race or ethnicity. These heinous crimes prove that the racism against the Asian American community will only worsen if they continue to be ignored and overlooked; however, there have been calls to action by the federal government.

In March, the House Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing on anti-Asian discrimination in over thirty years. President Biden also issued a statement condemning the recent attacks on Asian Americans, urging Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to "expedite the federal government's response to the rise of hate crimes exacerbated during the pandemic, support state, and local governments to improve hate crimes reporting, and ensure that hate crimes information is more accessible to Asian American communities." 

For more information on statistics, updates, education items, allyship work, donation links, and incident reporting information, please refer to the Anti-Asian Violence Resources websiteStop AAPI Hate is another reporting center that provides further resources on anti-Asian hate and offers a reporting system in twelve different languages to report any hate acts.