Recently released hate crime figures showing that anti-Asian hate crimes in the US rose by 149% in 2020 – a 50% increase since 2019 – is a call to action to do more to protect people of Asian descent in the United States.
These troubling figures point to a reality that not enough is being done by the broader American public to take anti-Asian hate crimes seriously.
The job of fighting hatred toward Asian-Americans cannot be left to the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community alone – the majority non-Asian community has a moral obligation to do more to combat this problem.
In California, where Asian-Americans account for more than 15% of residents, the AAPI community has been targeted with increased frequency. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen by 115% in Los Angeles county, while more than 800 Covid-related anti-Asian hate incidents took place statewide from March to May, 2020, according to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.
Among the most populous US cities, New York saw the largest annual increase in anti-Asian hate crimes reported to police in 2020.
There are different contributing factors to this serious problem. Among them, American anger at China’s initial mishandling of the Covid-19 outbreak; the rising US-China rivalry; anti-immigrant sentiment; a badly damaged social discourse; a hatred of “the other”; social media providing a platform for bigots; as well as a failure by too many to push back against anti-AAPI statements by various personalities.
How to go about combating the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes?
The reintroduction of a bipartisan-supported bill in the US House of Representatives and the Senate – the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assaults, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act – is a step in the right direction. This proposed legislation would increase assistance to hate crime victims and provide law enforcement authorities with the resources needed to improve hate crimes reporting and tracking.
Specifically, the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act will make US Department of Justice-administered grants available to state and local law-enforcement agencies to improve training, hate-crime reporting and the installation of hate-crime-reporting hotlines.
Resources for outreach to affected communities are also part of the bill, in addition to funds to rehabilitate hate-crime offenders. The proposed legislation would also allow judges to require hate-crime culprits to undergo education and community service that is focused on the particular community affected by the hate crime.
Additionally, President Joe Biden’s executive order banning the use of terms like “China virus” and “Kung Flu” within federal agencies’ operations, documents and resources was a welcome move.
While Washington has legitimate and urgent concerns over the malign conduct of the Communist Party of China, the increasingly fraught US-China relationship must not lead to the defamation of Asian-Americans.
The US can and must compete vigorously with China and speak out against CPC human-rights abuses etc while not allowing the geopolitical challenge of our time to lead to the demonization and mistreatment of the AAPI community.
A failure to do so harms our fellow citizens while contributing to our adversaries’ narrative that the American democratic and social model is in irreversible decline, morally bankrupt and unwilling to adhere to its stated ideals.
To this end, public-private partnerships should mount a vigorous public education campaign focusing on appropriate anti-hate advocacy initiatives on the airwaves and in the digital sphere.
President Biden can also appoint a commission focused on the protection of minorities in American businesses and houses of worship as well as measures to ensure physical safety on school campuses.
Furthermore, stronger efforts to make a dent in anti-AAPI sentiment must take place in our nation’s classrooms. Curricula need to be bolstered with a more thorough accounting of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and other troubling chapters of the Asian-American experience. Tolerance training that teaches of the unique struggle of Asian-Americans is needed on a broader basis.
Just as schools budget for field trips to Washington, DC, more educational institutions need to allocate resources for study trips to appropriate historical destinations such as former Japanese-American internment camps, the site in LA of the 1871 Chinese Massacre and Chinese Massacre Cove in Oregon, among others.
In order to augment these programs, educators need to be equipped with all the tools available in teaching today – online courses, virtual programs, symposia, learning apps, guest lectures, traveling exhibits, etc.
This obligation to teach our young about both the history and present-day challenges of Anti-Asian hate crimes must be facilitated by improved collaboration between AAPI and non-AAPI educators, police and other professionals. When possible, present-day victims of anti-Asian hate crimes should be consulted and involved, providing perspective.
Fortifying our schools with improved content about the AAPI experience can be a start toward helping our young become grounded, empathetic and equipped with the knowledge of past injustices. It needs to be made clear to our youth that anti-AAPI discrimination and hate are not okay.
Making headway in this endeavor will involve a long-term, sustained effort by people of all backgrounds. Families, schools, non-profits, faith-based organizations, businesses, law enforcement and political leaders each need to do their part. Strengthening AAPI and non-AAPI collaborations among neighbors and community leaders will be vital in this fight going forward.
Ted Gover PhD is the director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University.