“There is a long history of violence against Asians in the United States”

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The Atlanta (Georgia) shooting has rekindled the debate on anti-Asian racism in the United States. If the 21-year-old killer claims not to have had any racist motives, he attacked three massage parlors and six of the eight victims were of Asian origin. Within the community concerned, concerns and anger are expressed. According to the Stop AAPI Hate association, more than 3,800 acts of violence against Asian-Americans have been recorded during the past year. In several large American cities, such as New York, San Francisco or Chicago, the police have stepped up their presence in Chinatowns. Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Asian-American community leaders in Atlanta this Friday as the topic was discussed in the House of Representatives. Anthropologist Lok Siu, professor at the University of Berkeley, California, and specialist in Asian diasporas and transnationalism, delivers his analysis.

Read also: A worrying wave of anti-Asian racism sweeps through the United States

Do you attribute this wave of violence to Donald Trump’s aggressive rhetoric or is the evil deeper? I think much of the upsurge in violent acts in 2020 was linked to the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump, who spoke of ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘kung flu’ (influenza, for flu, editor’s note). By accusing the “Chinese” of being the source of the coronavirus pandemic, he inflamed anti-Chinese sentiments and channeled fear and rage against people of East Asian appearance. But, at first glance, the latest incidents and the fact that this violence continues are less linked, since we now have vaccines and the pandemic could soon be contained.

How then to explain that this phenomenon remains present? On closer inspection, this is not actually surprising. A year after the start of the pandemic, people are feeling a growing sense of hopelessness, vulnerability and anger, not only because of the loss of family members and friends, but also because of the economic consequences of the crisis. pandemic, such as job loss, increased debt, or lack of meaningful state support to help those in need. The emotional and psychological effects of trauma should not be underestimated. All of these factors create a very volatile situation. And it is easier to designate a scapegoat and direct anger and rage against an easily identifiable culprit than it is to seek to understand the problem in all its complexity. The previous administration had somehow paved the way by stigmatizing the Chinese in relation to Covid. Hate crimes are motivated by prejudices and biases against the race, religion, sexual orientation or the real or perceived origins of the victims. Sadly, people from East Asia, and not just the “Chinese”, have become “identifiable culprits”, racially marked, who can be blamed and used with violence.

Have you yourself been the subject of unpleasant remarks or gestures because of your origins? Not recently. I have had the privilege of being able to stay home most of the time, but I am well aware of the risks of verbal and physical attacks when I go out to do daily chores. I am particularly concerned for the safety of my 80-year-old mother and that of my children. The attackers target vulnerable Asian Americans. My elderly mother, my young children, as well as myself as an American woman with Asian roots, are all vulnerable in this climate of racial hatred. But no one is immune. It is very disturbing.

What efforts are being made to break certain stereotypes and the cycle of violence? Stereotypes are often questioned, but this does not necessarily affect those who should hear it. We live in a time when we can choose what we want to see or listen to, selecting media and eliminating others. We no longer receive different versions of the story. We operate in silos. So no matter how much and how often stereotypes are questioned, it often only affects people who are willing to change their mind … On the other hand, community activists understand how systemic racism works and its effects. about people of color. They understand the importance of working together and across the board. For example, Asian Americans are calling for non-prison solutions to address violence affecting their community. Hundreds of people volunteer to escort and ensure the safety of older people. And black and Asian communities are coming together to show their solidarity. It’s really powerful. I hope we can maintain this kind of mutual commitment and support for a long time to come. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I feel that we are living in a time of great transformational possibilities.

But what do you say to those who think that these are only isolated acts and not the expression of systemic and targeted racism? Nearly 4,000 attacks have been reported to the STOP AAPI Hate organization, and this number is underestimated. The current upsurge in anti-Asian violence is not abnormal or exceptional. For there has been a long history of violence against Asians in the United States, dating back to the late 1800s. It can be traced back to the early experiences of Chinese railway workers who arrived in the mid-19th century, and the violence they experienced. subject when they finished their work and traveled to towns where other Chinese had gathered. Between the 1870s and 1880s, more than 150 anti-China riots broke out across the country. In total, hundreds of Chinese have been murdered, thousands have been evicted from various cities, and entire Chinatowns have been reduced to ashes by angry mobs who accused them of “taking jobs” from whites and bringing in goods. diseases. Then there was the forcible internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, which was a violation of their basic constitutional rights. Then, the McCarthyism of the Cold War of the 1950s, when Chinese Americans and Chinese organizations were targeted specifically because, simply because of their Chinese origin, they were presumed to have political allegiance to the People’s Republic of China. Finally, after 9/11 we also saw the rise in violence against Muslims and Asian Sikhs.