We Need to Talk About Anti-Asian Racism
By: Sonia Sudjana
When I first heard about the coronavirus that originated in China, making its way to the rest of the world, I felt scared. And not only for the reason you’d think. As a person of Chinese descent, I feared being the victim of racist attacks more than I feared getting the virus.
I knew what was going to happen to my people if this pandemic would take over the world, and I wasn’t ready for it. Scapegoating minorities seemed to be a recurring reaction to major global events, and this time, the world blamed Asian people for an uncontrollable global pandemic. We need to pay attention to how society treats Asian people and how normalized racist behavior has become.
Eventually, my fears became true. Thousands of anti-Asian racist attacks flooded news headlines worldwide. Chinese people as young as toddlers and as old as the elderly were physically attacked, harassed, and were the receiving end of violent threats and online bullying, all linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. It even got to the point where these hate-fueled, racist attacks targeted other minority groups who simply looked Chinese. The world saw us as the enemy.
I was outraged. Day after day I sat and watched my people get punched, spat on, stabbed, and treated like filth. There was little we could do when the President of the United States tweeted racist and ignorant remarks about the virus on a daily basis, calling it the “Chinese virus”, and in his public rally – the “Kung Flu”.
The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 16, 2020
His nonchalant manner in casually blaming an entire ethnic group for a global pandemic normalized worldwide racism against my people. “Go back to China!”, ‘Stop spreading corona”, and “Ling Ling eats bats” were among the list of the popular insults that targeted Asian people in real life and on the internet.
The world saw Asians as dirty, diseased individuals who carried the virus on our skin. Our slanted eyes and yellow skin put a target on our backs. My people had to fear for their lives the next time they entered a public place. And even worse, they eventually learned to accept the possibility of getting attacked when they do.
But what was the worst part? People were silent. The thousands of hate crimes against my people were covered by the media as nothing more than your daily dose of news worth skipping over. The public wasn’t filled with the same rage that coursed through my veins.
Why? Because the same hatred and discrimination that fueled these attacks were nothing new. Because racism against Asians has been so normalized in society for decades, to the point that even Asians themselves sometimes don’t realize it is racism.
It’s hard to see such an ugly thing when it’s wrapped in pretty packaging. Asians have been ridiculed for their appearance and culture all in the name of comedy. The same stereotypical jokes about Asians play on and on like a broken record. Asians can’t drive. Asians are STEM nerds who don’t have social lives. Asians eat weird, smelly food. Asians speak broken English, and bonus points if it’s with a funny-sounding accent! The list goes on and on, and the public lets it go on!
The thousands of likes and retweets on a post making fun of Asian people speak louder than any of our cries for help. Nobody seems to care when it comes to Asians, and we have no choice but to get used to it, and even worse, to expect it. And these stereotypes surrounding Asian people aren’t as innocent as they seem. For one, Asian women are heavily fetishized, sexualized, and are expected to fit into a certain mold when it comes to how they look. It was as if their worth depended on whether they could fulfill some man’s “exotic” fantasy. It makes me sick to my stomach.
People have been getting away with casual racism against Asians for ages. It’s hard to be optimistic about change when something as big as the 2016 Academy Awards that focused on diversity in Hollywood, made fun of three Asian children as a part of a “comedic” skit.
My people contributed to some of the world’s finest art, literature, and teachings that have lived on for millenniums, yet all people want to talk about is how we speak with funny accents. Our cooking is our culture’s very own love language, built on the foundation of respect, togetherness, and family, yet all people want to talk about is how funny it smells. We have been taken advantage of for long enough, and just because my people from the generations before us learned to accept this normalized behavior, we will not.
People who are racist against other minority groups get their entire lives ruined. Their careers get destroyed, their opportunities revoked, and they become the subjects of internet harassment, doxing, and lose the privilege of privacy. But when it comes to racism against Asians, they barely get away with a slap on the wrist. The internet laughs and laughs at these disgusting words masked as jokes, and if anything, encourages more racism! Those who get offended are simply told to “take a joke” and move on.
What hurts the most is when it’s other minorities who are racist to Asian people. The myth of POC solidarity will always be known as a myth until each minority group can come together to stand up to our oppressors. Ending racism is not a fight we can do alone.
How you can be an ally
1. Call our acts of racism and xenophobia
Ever since the pandemic, Asians have faced an overwhelming amount of online racism and bullying, with little to no support. The internet often masks these acts of racism as funny tweets or memes, and thus, nobody ever calls them out. Asians have been the subject of comedic jokes for decades, especially on the internet. Our supposed submissive nature makes the world believe that they can trample our voices and use us as an opportunity for laughter. The simplest way you can help the Asian community is to speak up when you come across an offensive post. Report the post, tell the person to delete it, call them out on their repulsive behavior, and most importantly, don’t react in a way that lets them excuse their racist views. If nobody laughs, it won’t take long for them to realize that the same Asian jokes repeated over and over again are no longer funny.
2. Stand up for Asians during acts of racism
This might just be the hardest step, but it is the most important one. Asian people have been harassed in public for decades, whether it be physical or verbal. As someone who’s been in this situation myself, I know that the only thing going through my head when I went through it was to have someone come in and defend me. This is the true test of allyship, how you can make an actual difference in a person’s life. In situations like these, don’t be a bystander. Use your fight or flight response to help the victim by standing up to their attacker. Record the incident, make sure the victim stays safe physically and mentally, and most importantly, report the incident to the authorities.
3. Advocate for proper media representation
In the entertainment world, Asians are always treated as a joke. The Asian character in that one movie speaks English with a funny accent. In that other movie, she cooks some weird food and feeds it to her friends. Even as supporting characters, Asians get treated like inferiors. And in the rare moment, we get a powerful Asian lead to star in her own show, like Sandra Oh in Killing Eve, she and her character get sidelined. We need proper media representation of Asians and their culture. We’ve had enough of those stereotypical, derivative characters and storylines, where being Asian was the only personality trait of a character. As individuals who make up over 50% of the world’s population, we deserve to see an accurate depiction of our lives on the big screen.
No matter who you are, you have a voice. One that has the power to bring upon a real and influential change in our society. This never-ending fight against racism is not one that we can win alone. My people should no longer be the subject of cruel jokes, nor should they live another day of their life fearing for their safety. It’s time we let the world know that Asians deserve to be treated as equals.