I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard that six Asian women were slain in Atlanta. I got that same sick to my gut reaction I had when I heard George Floyd and Breanna Taylor were killed. It was the same emotional reaction to the Pulse club murder in Orlando. I should be used to it by now, but I still react emotionally to mass murders and hate crimes. There is still something inside of me that is shocked that this still happens in the United States.
Communities of color know that regardless of how law enforcement define these crimes, they were hate crimes directed at Asian women. These acts are not simply about the killer’s twisted sexual psychology. This is the result of ongoing anti-Asian sentiment that has festered in this country for hundreds of years. Anti-Asian laws are part of the sad legacy of racial discrimination of this country.
Another sad legacy of our nation is this country’s propensity to always have a convenient scapegoat to justify its collective immoral behavior. This started with the near elimination of Native Americans when white Europeans first visited these shores, it continued with the importation of African slaves and later dealing with the “Negro problem” as former slaveowners called it.
There was no “Negro Program” until the dawn of emancipation. Many Eastern and southern European immigrants were not always welcomed on these shores and immigration from these countries was effectivity stopped under the guise of preventing the spread of Bolshevism know as the “Red Scare.” Latinos have been blamed for the increase of undocumented immigration yet there are millions of undocumented people living in the U.S. from around the world who have not crossed the border from Mexico.
Asians have never been truly welcomed to the United States and their presence has often been referred to as the “Yellow Peril.” Yet again, there was no “Yellow Peril” when Chinese laborers were paid next to nothing to build the Union Pacific railroad with hundreds dying in the process. We cannot forget one of the saddest chapters in American history when Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent to be removed from their homes on the West Coast to internment (a nicer word for concentration camps) from 1942 to 1945. Sixty-six percentage of those interned were American citizens.
During our time, Donald Trump, supported by the bully pulpit of the American presidency, blamed the COVID-19 virus on China; and this has led directly to an increase of violence against the Asian community.
Hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A report released by Stop AAPI Hate revealed that there have been at least 3,795 hate incidents targeting the AAPI community from March 19, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021. More than 500 of those incidences occurred in 2021. And remember, these are the incidences that are reported.
It is time that as a nation, we stop scapegoating communities of color. It’s time that we stop scapegoating the Asian community for COVID-19 and other viruses (remember the Hong Kong Flu). The Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have made incredible contributions to the United States and by virtue of being here have the right to expect to not be subjected to any form of violence. As a proud African-American gay man I stand alongside all Asian and Pacific Islander communities in solidarity, particularly during this time of hate, ignorance, bigotry, and suffering.
Earl D. Fowlkes, Jr. is executive director of The Center for Black Equity.