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Asian Americans like me are living in fear. Fear of being subject to racist remarks. Fear of attacks on businesses and homes. After what happened Tuesday night — when Robert Aaron Long opened fire on three different Atlanta-area spas, killing six Asian American women — Asian Americans are now living in fear of being killed.
But this is a reality that has been familiar tor Asian Americans for far too long. Whether it be the 1871 Chinese Massacre that resulted in the killing of 10% of Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles to President Franklin Roosevelt sending Japanese Americans to internment camps, Asian Americans have faced, endured, and fought through discrimination, racism, and violence for hundreds of years.
Trump's Anti-Asian rhetoric
Then came the coronavirus. From the beginning of the pandemic, former President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed China for the severity of the virus and spewed terms like “Kung Flu.” A disturbing photo revealed that former President Trump crossed out the word “Coronavirus,” and replaced it with, “China virus” during one of his press briefings. On the campaign trail, he continued fanning the flames and riling his base by, again, blaming China for the pandemic.
Make no mistake about it: President Trump’s scapegoating of China was not by chance. It was deliberate. It was methodical. It was meant to stoke fear, anger, and mistrust against the Asian population. And as such, Asian Americans were the first to pay a price for it.
A group called “Stop AAPI Hate” documented the Anti-Asian American hate crimes from the outset of the pandemic and found staggering results. Just one week into the pandemic, on March 25, 2020, a report detailed Asian Americans being coughed on and spat on, being thrown out of certain stores because they “[brought] the virus” to the United States and being physically and verbally assaulted.
However, the harassment against Asian Americans didn’t stop there. Three months into the pandemic, on May 13, 2020, Stop AAPI Hate received over 1,800 anti-Asian hate claims. Of those claims, nearly 70% included verbal harassment, some of which entailed an elderly grandma "being cursed at with racial slurs.” Other occurrences included being shunned, undergoing workplace violations, and experiencing bans from transportation.
Yet, against the backdrop of an alarming accumulation of Anti-Asian American offenses, President Trump and the Republican Party stayed silent. For instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose wife, then-Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, is Taiwanese, refused to answer how he felt when asked about to rise in Anti-Asian attacks. Former Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany consistently employed the same terms former President Trump did during her nationally televised press conferences.
'China virus' redux: For Trump and Republicans, it's open season on Asian Americans like me
In remaining silent, they not only were complicit, but they gave permission to their supporters to keep attacking Asian Americans. In fact, the Stop AAPI National Report released at the end of February found almost 3,800 Asian hate incidents over the course of one year. That number is more than 15% higher than the previous year’s number (3,292) of Anti-Asian incidents.
Biden is changing the tone
Like so many Asian-Americans, my reaction to people who look like my grandma and grandpa being shoved off the street or those who look like me being called racial slurs was anger, frustration, and outrage. But behind every anti-Asian attack is yet another reminder of why words matter — especially when deployed by the most powerful man of the United States.
Fortunately, we are starting to see a change in tone and language for the better. Last week, President Joe Biden denounced the rise of Anti-Asian violence during his address to the nation. And after six Asian women were killed in Atlanta, he not only immediately acknowledged the pain and suffering of the Asian American community, he met with Asian Americans on a trip to Atlanta on Friday.
Violence against Asian Americans: Violence and hate against Asian Americans is a health and safety crisis for everyone
But in order to finally put an end to Anti-Asian sentiment, assaults, and now killings, each person must do their part. It is up to all of us to call out Asian hate when we see it. It is up to all of us collectively to reckon with the trauma the Asian community has endured and how to rewrite history in a way that heals the pain. And most critical, it is up to all of us to ensure that the words we choose to do not victimize Asians.
Stopping AAPI Hate requires all of us.
Victor Shi, 18, is a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-hosts the Intergenerational Politics Podcast with Jill Wine-Banks. He was previously elected as the youngest Asian American delegate for Joe Biden and has been published by USA TOD, The Hill, and the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter: @Victorshi2020
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump and COVID fueled anti-Asian hate but Biden is changing the tone