Asian-American racism deep-rooted with COVID-19, encourage more conversations about systemic racism among Asians


Leah Tan

Throughout the course of the pandemic, Asian-Americans have been used as a scapegoat for administrative failures. As a result, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found hate crimes against Asians have increased 150% this past year with one devastating mass shooting in Atlanta leaving eight Asians dead.
In response, many people have taken to various platforms to address the current racist narrative, yet have completely overlooked the long history of racism that preceded COVID-19.
It’s not their fault, though. History classes rarely cover the brutal past policies intended to target Asians—during WWII, Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps under the baseless assumption they were aiding Japan. Furthermore, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese immigration until 1943. But perhaps the biggest culprit for this ignorance is the model minority myth: the stereotype that all Asians are smart and successful.
This claim is false and harmful. First, it fails to account for why the success of some Asians is even present in America. Our government’s past racist policies of immigration quotas and selective recruitment of educated Asians enabled their success, not the “American Dream”.
But second, the generalization ignores reality. In fact, the Urban Institute finds that 12.3% of Asian-Americans live below the poverty level, disproportionately affecting certain groups within the Asian community. The Asian-American demographic is extremely diverse and by conforming the entire group into a single stereotype, we completely overlook the struggles they face.
Moreover, the model minority myth harms other racial groups. As explained by Janelle Wong, the director of Asian-American Studies at the University of Maryland, the use of the perceived success of Asian-Americans as a racial wedge has minimized the persistent struggles of other racial minorities.
By making a false comparison between Asian-Americans and other groups, particularly Black Americans, it allows people to perpetuate that racism, including more than 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow laws, can be overcome by “hard work.”
Thus, it’s vital that we view Asian-American racism beyond the lens of COVID-19. By failing to acknowledge the many systemic barriers placed against Asians, we ignore the history of oppression Asians continue to face. Use this time as a means to educate yourself and engage in conversations about Asian-American racism not only for the Asian community, but for all people of color.

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Leah Tan at [email protected]

Click here to see a graphic perspective by Chloe Sun about Asian American hate.

Click here to learn more about the hate crimes against Asian Americans.