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As communities, diverse groups, and even President Biden express support for addressing the racist violence directed at Asian-Americans, solidarity remains the only weapon strong enough to disarm and dismantle white supremacy.
Many woke up to the racial terror afflicting Asian-Americans just this week, when white supremacist Aaron Rodgers Long, 21, mercilessly gunned down eight people near Asian-American businesses outside Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday night. Six of the eight were Asian women, and it follows a year of record-breaking hate crimes and attacks against Asian-Americans in the United States, according to Stop AAPI Hate.
It’s horrific. It’s alarming. And it’s unprecedented.
Racist violence began with racist rhetoric
But it’s important to remember that the deadly result of Trump’s racist rhetoric, which wrongly conflated the COVID-19 virus with Asian-Americans, started with hateful glances and painful words. The majority of us largely dismissed it.
At the beginning of the pandemic, C.Le would receive dirty looks in the grocery store as people avoided her on purpose. She said she knew it was because she’s Asian-presenting.
“My brother had suffered worse. He went into Target the first month of the pandemic and somebody yelled at him to go back to China. We’re Vietnamese, by the way. So, we can’t,” Le said.
Violence against Asian-Americans unprecedented
An actor and facilitator of a educational nonprofit in Los Angeles, Le said she’s been blessed to live in a liberal area without many instances of hate directed at her specifically. But the rise in violence across the nation, and especially in California and New York, where the majority of hate crimes against Asian-Americans have been reported, has sent a shockwave through communities that makes them feel this country isn’t safe.
Without warning, and often without words, racists, overwhelmingly white and male, have spat on Asian-Americans, stabbed them in the back, lit them on fire, burned down their businesses, robbed, beat, and killed them. What started as isolated incidents in a few local papers has morphed into an epidemic of racial terrorism directed at Asian-Americans. The message is clear: They don’t want Asian-Americans here.
But Le said it’s why she feels groups like Black Lives Matter is so important. And why more in the Asian-American community should speak out like them. “We’re still considered that model minority. People are like ‘they’re not gonna say anything when shit happens to them so it’ll be fine’,” Le said.
White shooter “had a really bad day.”
Based on initial statements from police, and the media that covered them, officials seem to be proving Le right.
Why Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker decided to defend and humanize Long, the Atlanta shooter, no person with an ounce of empathy will ever understand. However, his statement at a press conference, saying Long “had a really bad day,” had the effect of pouring a truck load of salt into an open wound.
Baker created a firestorm of suspicion that he himself may be a white supremacist-sympathizer when he told media that Long “apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” With a straight face he said that.
Media a mouthpiece for law enforcement
Adding to decades of colonization and racist Hollywood programming that depicted Asian women as submissive or promiscuous, Baker placed blame on the victims for causing Long to commit his violent act. Not only that, the resulting coverage showed how even large media companies fail to do their jobs properly.
The most embarrassing example occurred after Jay Baker tried to imply that the crime in Atlanta most likely wasn’t a hate crime because the murder suspect told him so. The media carried the headline for hours before thousands of angry Asian-American Tweets and Facebook posts forced them to consider practicing actual journalism.
A white man drove to multiple business specifically owned by Asian-Americans. He killed multiple people. The majority of them were Asian-American. He’s a hate-crime committing white supremacist domestic terrorist and it shouldn’t take a confession to acknowledge that.
U.S. Congress holds hearing on Asian-American violence
Finally, after more than 150 years of treating Asian-Americans as “other,” and for the first time in decades, the federal government has stepped in to address the rising hate and violence.
On Thursday, the House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing titled “Discrimination and Violence Against Asian-Americans.” It featured a brief history of the U.S. government’s racist treatment of Asian-Americans, video of recent attacks, and testimony from Asian-American members of Congress.
For decades after the Civil War, the United States would not recognize Asian-Americans born on U.S. soil as citizens or even fully human. When Black Americans were forced to colored sections of society, Asian-Americans were often forced to join them.
Invisible no more
Thursday’s committee hearing gave voice to a community that for too long many considered eternally invisible.
Doris Matsui was a witness who spoke about the danger of normalizing hate. She was born in a Japanese internment camp, when the U.S. government forced Americans into camps with armed guards simply because the country was at war with Japan.
“After the internment our country moved on for decades. It took decades for lawmakers to hear our pain,” Matsui said. “Today’s hearing shows this legislative body will no longer sit in silence while our community suffers in silence.”
California Congresswoman Rep. Judy Chu noted how nearly 3,800 hate crimes and incidents have been reported in the last year. As Chair of the Congressional AAPI Caucus, Rep. Chu said she “urged the committee to undertake the hearing because the Asian-American community has reached a crisis point that cannot be ignored.”
Rep. Chu has called for a national day to speak out against Asian-American hate on March 26. Cities around the country plan to hold events, including Tulsa, which will host its solidarity event downtown at the Center of the Universe at 11:00 a.m.
While many plan to take a stand, many also worry about casting a shadow on the Black Lives Matter movement.
Asian-Americans finding their voice
“People will say, ‘when is it going to be our turn.’ But there’s a tension on how do we get our issues in without being seen as pulling away from BLM issues,” San Jose State University Chief Diversity Officer Kathleen Wong (Lau) told the Black Wall Street Times.
She said that because the Asian-American community hails from immigrants with different backgrounds, there hasn’t always been a unified voice like in the Black community.
“My family came as poor working-class,” Wong (Lau) said. After immigration laws changed, the government placed poor people on a waiting list and allowed people who could afford to start businesses and hire Americans to jump to the front of the line.
“I think when they designed it they were hoping Europeans would come,” she said. Instead, new generations of Asian Americans arrived. Wong (Lau) said many of the older immigrants who come from the working class tend to lean more Democratic, while some of the newer immigrants who arrived on merchant visas tend to lean more Republican.
“So we’re not the same voting blocs other groups might be.” But having said that, “this election is the first time an overwhelming majority of Asian-Americans voted Democratic tickets all the way down. The rise in support helped usher in Georgia’s first Black Senator and first Jewish Senator.
Solidarity our greatest weapon against white supremacy
Wong (Lau) said that supporting one another is key to dismantling white supremacy. She also acknowledged how even though Asian-Americans do wield some relative privilege in society, simply based on their proximity to whiteness, constantly feeling like an outsider creates a “bamboo ceiling” impossible to penetrate.
“On a scale that includes violent attacks this is not as bad,” Wong (Lau) said speaking on the concept of being considered forever foreign. “The problem is its so ever-present. it’s part of the climate. You never feel like you belong.” The irony, she said, is that many in the community don’t speak up unless violence occurs. Now, the violence is so overwhelming staying silent is no longer an option.
The dawn of a multicultural United States has lit a fire inside the hateful hearts of white supremacists marching to the beat of an alternate reality. These dangerous bands of domestic terrorists are hell-bent on remaking the country in their image. But one only needs to remember the words of revolutionary Fred Hampton to understand that sharing our pain and platforms with the pain Asian-Americans and other communities face will create a stronger bond capable of dismantling white supremacy for good.
“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best ; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity.” -Fred Hampton