By ANDY BARNS
During the past year of the pandemic, the U.S. has seen a spike of attacks on people of Asian descent. This culminated in the March 16 attack on three Atlanta-area massage businesses staffed by Asian Americans, leaving eight people dead .
Since remarks by former President Trump and his cronies about the “China virus” or “kung flu,” attacks on people of Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry have risen dramatically. Much of the U.S. media has fostered a lazy association between the virus, its discovered origin, and people who look Asian.
Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center for harassment and abuse of Asian minorities in the U.S., documented 3795 racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans from March 2020 to February of this year.
The website states that over 2800 cases of anti-Asian discrimination were reported first-hand by victims in 2020 in 47 states, including the District of Columbia . Most reported attacks are verbal in nature (70.9%). Physical attacks (about 8.7% of reported incidents) include coughing or spitting (about 6.4% of incidents). Businesses make up nearly 40% of the locations of harassment, and cases of on-the-job discrimination or refusal of services account for 8% of reported incidents.
The physical attacks have had deadly consequences, and mostly target the vulnerable. According to the BBC, reporting in 2020 , statistics of anti-Asian bigotry included the stabbing of two children in a Texas supermarket, and multiple reported incidents of physical assault of the elderly, such as the 84-year-old Thai immigrant who was shoved to the ground and died in San Francisco and the 61-year-old Filipino who was slashed with a box cutter in New York.
Stop AAPI Hate’s report includes several anonymous stories, like that of the 67-year-old man struck from behind by a white male, who then yelled racial slurs and accused him of bringing the coronavirus to the U.S. (San Francisco), or the story of another who was called a “yellow mother******” in an elevator, before being thrown against the elevator bank (New York City).
Hate speech and conspiracy theories in far-right message boards, and even by rightist pundits on cable news, grew as well during the past year. Rightists often suggest that the pandemic was an explicit plot by the Chinese state to attack America (of course, no bio-weapons attack could be as effective at killing Americans as the denial in health care that this country’s own doggy for-profit medical system produces). The conspiracy theory that the virus was created in a Wuhan virology lab has been debunked by virus experts internationally, who claim the virus has a natural origin . But this does not stop right-wing cable pundits from circulating the fake news, which then seeps into the poisonous pool of far-right social media to be amplified.
From disparaging myths about East Asian cultures in general to the equally toxic “model minority” myth, America has done a great deal in its history to turn Asian people into “others.” It would be foolish to discount this influence in the shooter’s mind.
According to a spokesman for the Cherokee County, Ga., sheriff’s department, the alleged shooter, Robert Aaron Long, claimed that his motivation for the killings was “sex addiction” and that the massage businesses were sites of temptation that violated his Christian faith . Never mind that the notion of “sex addiction” shifts the blame to the victims of violence, or to Asian women specifically, who are often reduced to nothing more than sex objects in the form of massage parlor stereotypes and “happy endings.”
“We’re not really Americans, we’re perpetually foreigners, and that idea plays out with women … being oversexualised,” Helen Kim Ho, a Korean American and a founder of the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta, told The Washington Post on March 17.
Indeed, racism has a pernicious way of reducing outsider groups to a “less-than” status while simultaneously making the image of the women into disposable sex objects. Racism and sexism intertwine and reinforce each other. Given the rise of far-right extremism, and the goading to violence of impressionable minds by the far-right web, we see the simultaneous rise in “lone wolf” attacks (generally by white men) against gay establishments, Black Lives Matter protests, churches and synagogues, and others.
The role of U.S.-China rivalry
What happened on March 16 in Georgia is but a facet of a multi-faceted injustice. It is merely the American reflection of global imperialist ideology—which has always employed racism to achieve its ends.
In the past, when U.S. capitalists used cheap Chinese labor in the construction of railroads and other projects requiring hard labor at low wages, words like “coolies” or “chinks” were used to dehumanize them and justify their exploitation. Once the U.S. had become a rising imperialist power, it used its fleets to patrol the Chinese coast and guard its colonial interests in the region . Soon after the Chinese Revolution, the U.S. confronted China militarily during the Korean War and even considered mounting an invasion of China. At the time, Chinese and Korean civilians were further dehumanized and often referred to as “gooks” by the military and in the U.S. media—a racist term that was widespread in military lingo during the Vietnam War.
It is no surprise that anti-Asian bigotry is on the rise now when China poses a significant threat to U.S. hegemony globally. China has expressed its own imperialist ambitions. It has exported capital to other Asian and African countries, expanded its navy, and is using its “Belt and Road” initiative to tie other nations to itself economically, not unlike what the World Trade Organization or NATO do for the U.S.
China poses a threat to U.S. domination. This rivalry is reflected, for example, in regard to Chinese cyber attacks (with the U.S. enacting anti-China sanctions in tech), repression toward satellite states and zones (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, etc.), and military tensions in areas like the China Sea (the U.S. has hundreds of military bases over Asia and the Pacific). The Trump administration’s launch of the so-called “space force” is in direct response to China’s own growing interest in space flight.
The Biden administration has vowed to keep up the pressure against China both economically and in the political sphere. Accordingly, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep “concerns” over China’s “economic coercion toward our allies” in Asia while speaking in a meeting last week in Anchorage between top leaders of the two countries. He referred to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang in his remarks. However, China’s director of its Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi, deflected U.S. criticisms by referring to instances of U.S. racism at home and the fact that the U.S. “has exercised the long-arm jurisdiction and suppression and overstretched the national security though the use of force or financial hegemony.”
According to a recent Gallup Poll, 45% of Americans believe that China is now “the greatest enemy of the U.S.,” more than double the percentage who said so a year ago. This rivalry is translated in portions of the U.S. media, including social media, as a conflict between the Chinese people and American people themselves. The consequence is the growth of bigotry. Even in China, the state resorts to spreading baseless conspiracies about the virus being of U.S. origin , clearly the mirror image of far-right propaganda in the United States. But working people do not need to be enemies and have a clear interest in building relations of mutual solidarity and respect.
On March 20, several hundred people gathered in front of the Georgia capitol building to demand justice for the victims at the message businesses and to denounce racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Simultaneous rallies were held nationwide. In San Francisco, over 1000 massed in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square. They waved signs reading “Stop Asian hate!” “We are NOT a virus!” and “We are humans!” In New York City, protesters marched from Times Square to Chinatown, about 300 gathered in Chicago’s Logan Square, while hundreds marched in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and elsewhere.
For the future, we need to build a united movement in solidarity with the Asian community. Unions on the local and national level have an obligation to call out these attacks (and all forms of bigotry) and take a leadership role in mobilizing the whole class for change. Organizations of color, in particular Black Lives Matter chapters, must not ignore these issues: the growth of racism against one group will embolden attacks on another. Ultimately, however, the Asian and Pacific islander communities must continue to take the lead and determine the specific demands.
We must consciously foster a culture of solidarity and cooperation among all people, regardless of their nationality or ethnic background. American capitalism has a pernicious way of dividing people in any number of ways in order to super-exploit those left behind. This effect is clear in the over-incarceration of Black and Hispanic people, the under-payment of immigrant laborers, and the criminal neglect of Indigenous communities.
We cannot subordinate the struggle to electing capitalist politicians. The toxicity of racism and the prevalence of racist propaganda cannot be solved by a change of public functionaries, and much less the functionaries of capital and inter-imperialist rivalry! Although Biden and Harris traveled to Atlanta to denounce the attacks on March 19, and a number of Democrats took the stage at protest events on March 20, the Democratic Party has always been a racist organization, complicit in the enforcement of white supremacy.
The widest possible participation of working people and all who support antiracist action must be achieved if we are to make serious gains against racism.
Tuesdays Shootings reported on by Time Magazine.
Stop AAPI Hate’s February 2021 press release.
BBC reports in March and May 2020 on the spike of sinophobic bigotry in the U.S.
Vox reports on the coronavirus conspiracy theories.
Discussion of the shooter by Seattle local news.
Black Agenda Report outlines the history of US anti-Asian racism and its connections to 19th-century colonialism and modern imperialism.
The Chinese mirror image of U.S. virus conspiracies.