May is Asian American Heritage Month, but many members of this community say they’re discriminated against, and the coronavirus pandemic has added to the racist sentiment. Nearly 80% of Asian Americans say they do not feel respected and are discriminated against, according to a poll commissioned by a new nonprofit Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH).
Experts point out that the U.S. has a long tradition of scapegoating and discriminating against Asian Americans, including through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and violence against people perceived to be Muslim in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Cases of COVID-19 were first detected in Wuhan, China. Former president Donald Trump drew widespread criticism last year for describing COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” as experts warned such rhetoric could result in discrimination against Asian Americans. Trump and his then press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, denied that he had used racist language.
There remains a disconnect between the Asian American experience and how people of other races believe Asian Americans are treated. While Asian Americans are significantly under-represented in senior positions in companies, politics, and the entertainment industry, nearly half of non-Asian Americans believe Asian Americans are fairly or over-represented.
‘There remains a disconnect between the Asian American experience and how people of other races believe Asian Americans are treated.’
Despite that, 42% of Americans say they cannot name one prominent Asian American, despite having Kamala Harris, who is partly of Indian descent, as their vice president. Despite efforts by the entertainment industry to increase diversity and representation on screen, Asian American actors remain limited to highly stereotypical roles, the report added.
“Asians Americans feel as if they are under siege; 81% of Asian American adults believe violence against them is increasing, and 45% of Asian American adults have experienced an incident tied to their racial or ethnic background since the pandemic began,” the report by the new nonprofit stated. “At the same time, this discrimination isn’t new.”
Anti-Asian hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities increased 150% in 2020 with a significant surge in the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have originated at a food market in China in December 2019, according to a separate analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
The recent shootings at three spas in Atlanta, Ga. that left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women, have led to increased awareness of anti-Asian incidents. Activist groups, pointing to the historical hypersexualization of Asian women, challenged initial police statements that the shooting suspect said he had a “sex addiction” and was not racially motivated.
(Meera Jagannathan contributed to this story.)