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Hate crimes against Asian Americans are nothing new

February 9, 2021, 5:01 PM UTC

The grainy security camera footage is shocking.

The elderly man walking down the street in Oakland, Calif.’s Chinatown neighborhood never even sees his assailant, a man who shoves him to the ground with brutal force and walks away. The video of the attack on the 91-year-old man, recorded on January 31, became the most recent evidence in a wave of mostly unaddressed hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Now, activists have had enough.  

It’s been a long time coming. Hollywood stars began calling out the racist violence early in the pandemic. By mid-summer, Stop AAPI Hate, an alliance of three organizations serving AAPI communities, began documenting the incidents. They quickly found that bullying, assaults, and verbal abuse were “becoming the norm” across the U.S. By September, it seemed that one in four young Asian American adults had been bullied or otherwise harassed.  

Actors and activists Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu and other  high-profile stars are renewing their efforts for justice for the AAPI community.

After posting a reward encouraging anyone with information about the suspect in the recent Oakland case to come forward, Kim took to Instagram. “The number of hate crimes against Asian Americans continues to skyrocket, despite our repeated pleas for help. The crimes are too often ignored and even excused. … #EnoughisEnough.”

The recent political cycle is partly to blame. 

Analysis conducted by Stop AAPI Hate found that one in ten tweets about Asian Americans contained racist or stigmatizing language related to China in the months preceding the 2020 election. Nearly 40% blamed China for the pandemic. The tweets became widespread campaign fodder. “The research suggests that President Donald Trump, whose racist or stigmatizing tweets have by far the greatest reach and were retweeted 1,213,700 times and liked 4,276,200 times, is the greatest spreader among politicians of anti-Asian American rhetoric related to the pandemic.”

On January 26, President Biden signed four executive orders that aim to address inequality and systemic racism, including one that gives the Justice Department a mandate and resources to track hate crimes against Asian-Americans. “This is unacceptable, and it’s un-American,” he said, referring specifically to the increase in xenophobic attacks. 

“I think President Trump created a frame of permission that it was okay to be casually racist toward Asian Americans and people of Asian descent,” Aspen Institute’s Eric Liu told NPR. “President Biden, simply by changing the tone, simply by refusing to speak in that way, makes a big difference.”

But “changing the tone” will be a big lift.

In 2017, Frank Guan wrote a prescient piece called “The Model Minority in the Age of Trump,” which helped illuminate the historical elements of bigotry and resentment that were re-fueling attacks against AAPIs long before COVID-19 hit. “Things will not get easier for Asian-Americans, as anyone who’s been paying attention to candidate and, now, President Trump’s campaign rhetoric will attest,” Guan says. “The language of the Yellow Peril has returned, with a vengeance: Asians, the Chinese especially, are ‘raping our economy’ and ‘stealing our jobs.'” Stoking resentment toward an ascending China continues to be a legitimate political strategy. “If America is no longer great and America is never to blame, then some nefarious other must be responsible,” he says. “Asians in America remain a small and vulnerable population, and make for promising scapegoats.”

While the man responsible for the Chinatown attack has been arrested, the violence continues. Maybe it’s time to think of it as an allyship emergency: Targeting and blaming an entire demographic never ends well. Say something early and often. While executive orders are a good place to start, changing the tone will require everyone to sing the same song.

Ellen McGirt

On point

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A new volume offers a "choral history" of Black American life   "Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019," is a new anthology of work co-edited by Ibram X. Kendi, author of "How to Be an Antiracist," and Keisha N. Blainauthor of "Set the World on Fire." The book brings some 90 authors from a spectrum of disciplines to explore the rich diversity of the Black cultural experience in context of broader struggle. Authors include raceAhead favorites including Angela Davis, Karine Jean-Pierre, Alicia Garza, Jericho Brown, Imani Perry, and Isabel Wilkerson. Click through for an interview with the co-editors. Kendi describes the big idea. "What if we brought together 80 different writers to write five years of African American history each? What if we brought together 10 poets who could write poetry based on 40 years of African American history each? What if this community of 90 writers would end up writing the history of a community?"
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Tristan Walker will be president one day It's not possible to listen to this remarkable interview with Walker & Co. CEO Tristan Walker and not believe that the sky is the limit for him. His health and beauty company was snapped up by Procter & Gamble in 2018, making him the first Black CEO of a P&G subsidiary, but his mission began with a quest find razor blades that wouldn't irritate his skin or products that wouldn't humiliate Black consumers. Now he's on a mission to change business for good. In this episode of Fortune's Leadership Next podcast, he tells Alan Murray and me that he believes all companies should have a plan to serve customers of color. "Every company in 20 years, when folks of color become the majority in this country, if they do not have a plan to serve this audience with empathy, I believe that they will not exist." Also in the conversation: why Walker sold his startup to the giant P&G, his "complicated" feelings around venture capital, and advice for other Black entrepreneurs.
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On Background

It's way past time for a television drama starring a Filipino nurse Nursing has been a destination profession for Filipino Americans for generations, and nearly one in five nurses in California are Filipino. And yet, they rarely appear in popular television dramas. It's even become a running joke, picked up by SNL cast member Michael Che in the 2018 Primetime Emmy opener. "As we all know, TV has always had a diversity problem," he began. "I mean, can you believe they did fifteen seasons of 'ER' without one Filipino nurse? Have you been to a hospital?" Anthony Ocampo, whose mom is a retired nurse, says it's a problem bigger than racism. "[F]rom creation to casting, there's a lack of awareness in the television industry of who Filipinos are and how they fit into the American racial landscape—as well as an unwillingness to reimagine what Filipino American stories can offer," he writes. And then there's this: Nearly a third of the nurses who've died of coronavirus in the US are Filipino, even though Filipino nurses make up just 4% of the nursing population nationwide.

The racial politics of time and history "If time had a race, it would be white," begins Brittney Cooper, cultural theorist and commentator. "White people own time." In this fascinating 2016 TEDWomen talk, Cooper addresses the way we dismiss time as a factor in our inability to understand our history of white dominance. The re-emergence of race-based violence continues to surprise many people, but it shouldn't, she says. Turns out, a philosophical decision to remove Africa from the very notion of time and history, lead to a justification of race based violence that exists today. "Time has a history, and so do black people," she said. "As though it doesn't have a political history of being bound up with the plunder of indigenous lands, the genocide of indigenous people, the stealing of Africans from their homeland." 


raceAhead is edited by David Z. Morris

Today's mood board

Mary Wilson (L) with fellow Supremes Florence Ballard and Diana Ross, rehearsing before an airing of the television show Hullabaloo on May 11, 1965. Wilson passed away at age 76 on Monday, February 8, 2021.