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The rise in anti-Asian attacks has prompted the Biden administration to expand an initiative aimed at combating anti-Asian bias and violence. But for many Asian Americans, the recent violence also highlights a long history of feeling invisible. Mike Cerre reports from San Francisco as part of our series “Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism." A warning: some images may be disturbing.
The rise in anti-Asian attacks in this country prompted the Biden administration to expand an earlier initiative aimed at combating anti-Asian bias and violence last week.
And while the heightened attention on the latest attacks has drawn support to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, for many, it also highlights a long history of feeling invisible. Special Correspondent Mike Cerre has the story from San Francisco.
This report is part of our ongoing initiative, "Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism." A warning: the images in portions of this segment are disturbing.
The surge in Asian hate crimes, oft not reported in the past, are now being documented by surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses for all to see on social media. They range from harassment and petty crimes to terrifying physical confrontations and assaults often resulting in injuries and in the case of several elderly victims death.
An elderly Asian man, pinned to the ground in San Francisco.
Reporter Dion Lim has been covering this alarming local trend.
And I think what happened in Atlanta was perhaps on a more national scale, a catalyst, an explosion, because it combined something like a mass shooting with the concept of hate and that hyper-sexualization of Asian-American women. So I think that's why many see it as a turning point.
Shocking as these images are of this recent surge in Asian hate crimes, they're not surprising here in Oakland's Chinatown. California has the country's oldest and largest Asian community, and as such, a long and tortured history of discrimination and harassment.
Knowing the 'Yellow Peril' history that whenever a disease arrived from Asia that Asians would be met with violence and with racist policies, we knew we had to document the racism we're experiencing.
Russell Jeung, Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University started the Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate Crimes online tracking system in March 2020, at the start of the COVID crisis.
The Chinese virus.
That's exactly when the same week President Trump began to use the term insistently on Chinese virus. So when we were flooded, we knew that that rhetoric was exacerbating.
People ask, is there a surge? Well, in 2019, nobody was spitting and coughing on other people.
Anti-Asian political rhetoric and the backlash it can cause isn't unique to recent political figures, according to UC Berkeley Sociology Professor Andy Barlow .
Probably the classic example of it was the success of Ronald Reagan in weaponizing anti-Japanese sentiments in the early 1980s to explain the collapse of the manufacturing sector of the United States, which he argued was caused by Japanese unfair competition. In Detroit, a young man named Vincent Chin, who was out celebrating his nuptials the next day, was accosted outside a bar and killed by out-of-work white auto workers because they thought he was Japanese.
He believes the recent China-bashing over trade and defense issues is continuing this cultural demonizing for political advantage.
I think that China-bashing from government and from politicians, it's probably the second primary source of the racism we're facing first is that perpetual foreigner 'Yellow Peril' stereotype that we don't belong.
This perfect storm of historical racism, political rhetoric and the rise in extremism has Asian communities here and across the country taking more security precautions. These volunteer street patrols in Oakland's Chinatown and GoFundMe campaigns for hiring private security are a reflection of the Asian community's frustration with local law enforcement's ability to stem the attacks.
One of the challenges for the Asian community is, you know, when we migrate to places, we're often seen as perpetual foreigners, even if we might have been there for generations.
As a South Asian, Aarti Kohli, Executive Director of Advancing Justice- Asian Law Caucus dealt with a similar surge in hate crimes against Muslims after 9/11.
What we learned is that whenever there is conflict with a foreign country and people think that Americans residing here come from that country, there is deep racism and animosity aimed at those communities. And what's hard is, you know, you don't you can't predict it. You know, it just comes out.
Her offices on the edge of San Francisco's Chinatown have also been targeted by extremist groups.
Last year, the Patriot Front, which is a white supremacy group, actually tagged our office sign. The Bay Area is considered a very liberal, progressive place, but you don't have to go far to find a white supremacy group.
I think there are two– two ways that racism is expressed in the United States — it's the clear white-Black divide. There's a binary, but there's also that insider-outsider divide that you're either really inside America or you're cast as not belonging as an outsider. What Black Lives Matter did is it exposed the structural racism of the United States.
The model minority myth that Asian-Americans are successful, the myth that because we're hardworking and value education, that we're more achieving? I think that myth has been really problematic. It masks the fact that there we have the highest income inequality among any racial group. And then what it does is it drives a wedge between us and other racial groups. It pits us because others might say, why can't you be like Asians who are successful, just work hard and keep quiet.
Hate is learned. You know, you don't come out of the womb hateful. You learn it along the way. And there are many messages in our society and stereotypes that we are teaching our children that we really have to pay attention to.
After Asian basketball star Jeremy Lin was recently subjected to an Asian slur by another minority player during a game he went public with it without naming names rather than remain silent. He also privately followed up with his offender with a one–on-one discussion on racism.
I got to talk to the player directly. And we talked a lot about other things. And one of the things that stuck out the most to me was the other player was like, 'hey, I like, I didn't know. I went online and I didn't realize how much was happening to the Asian-American community.'
It's unlike anything else I have ever covered, wildfires, shootings, nothing compares. And I feel myself getting emotional periodically. At any time, because unlike those situations, this is ongoing, it's constant, and it is people who look like me. It is people who look like my mother and father, people that I care about. And they feel so helpless. And they are looking to me because they see that I have a voice and I can help them.
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