Nothing stings quite like the pain of erasure. Nothing hurts quite like the onslaught of racial violence rendered invisible in the public eye. Nothing dehumanizes quite like the cavalier dismissal of the racism, the misogyny, the attacks, the murders.
Nothing demoralizes quite like the insistence that everything is alright because it is all happening just over there – just out of sight.
Last week, writer Frankie Huang penned a thoughtful analysis of skier Eileen Gu’s decision to compete for Team China in the 2022 Winter Olympics, and how that inspired Huang to explore her own relationship to Chinese diasporic identity. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed for that piece although my quotes were cut for space.) In her Washington Post op-ed, Huang declared conservative criticisms of Gu’s decision to be “blatantly racist”, insensitive to the “barrage of racism”Asian Americans endure in the United States. To her point, many have called Gu “disloyal”, “ungrateful”, and “traitor” — all language that has historically been used to alienate Asian Americans as mere contingent citizens, allowed to belong only when we demonstrate our worth and earn our keep.
Predictably, conservative media has reacted swiftly and harshly against Huang. They have accused her of lying about the existence of anti-Asian racism and of projecting her “insecurities” onto the American public. They have once again invoked the tired canard of the Model Minority Myth to falsely assert that Asian Americans must not experience real racism.
“Ms. Huang seems to have easily transcended whatever racism she has endured in the United States, as has most Asians,” writes Casey Chalk for Spectator World. Chalk goes on to argue that Asian Americans on average bring home too high a median income to be really oppressed. Also according to Chalk, Huang’s focus on anti-Asian racism is illegitimate because she holds an advanced degree in English. For Chalk, both Asian Americans in general and Huang specifically are somehow too privileged to experience any authentic racial pain.
It’s 2022. Six years after the election of Trump normalized openly xenophobic and Sinophobia rhetoric from the podium of the White House, and two years (and counting) into a world-wide pandemic that conservative outlets continue to gleefully refer to as the “kung flu” and the “China flu”, can we please stop pretending that anti-Asian racism and racial injustice doesn’t really exist?
Asian Americans — especially Asian American women — are under siege. In just one year of the pandemic, over ten thousand Asian Americans self-reported being the victim of anti-Asian harassment or assault. Official reports of anti-Asian hate crime reports have more than tripled. Pew Research separately finds that half of surveyed Asian Americans have been the victim of racial harassment, and 81% of Asian Americans believe that racial violence against our community is on the rise. Wherever one looks, the story is the same: one-quarter of Asian American employees have been discriminated against in the workplace and in applying for housing. 25% of Asian American youth have been victimized by racist bullying. Online hate against Asian Americans has surged to an alarming high.
Two-thirds of anti-Asian bias incidents are reported by Asian American women, and half of all Asian American women say they have been directly impacted by anti-Asian hate. Asian American women are afraid of how the racism we face is inextricably intertwined with misogyny, and those fears aren’t unfounded: last March, a gunman in Atlanta shot and killed eight people — six of them Asian American women — in targeted attacks on people whom the shooter presumed were sex workers. Less than a month later, another gunman opened fire in a FedEx warehouse, killing eight including four South Asian American Sikhs. Last month, two Asian American women were shot to death in separate attempted robberies of Asian massage parlors in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Earlier this year, 40-year-old Michelle Go was pushed to her death in the New York City subway. Less than a month later, 35-year-old Christina Yuna Lee was stabbed to death in her Chinatown apartment. The motives in both cases are not fully known; but, one must wonder to what extent stereotypes of Asian American women – as physically weak, as morally dangerous, as easy targets, as untrustworthy spies – might have played a role?
The racism that Asian Americans face are not just “made up” fantasies, or progressive narratives of false victimhood. Racial injustice impacts our daily lives in myriad ways: the Asian American wealth gap is the greatest among any racial group. Many Asian Americans live far below the poverty line with limited access to higher education. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Asian Americans were less likely to have adequate healthcare coverage, and we are still more at risk for certain forms of cancer.
The Asian American community has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with higher rates of severe infection and COVID-related death. Asian American businesses were quicker to experience financial struggle under COVID and less able to access federal loans to stay afloat, and the long-term joblessness rate continues to lag for Asian Americans behind that of other groups.
It’s 2022. The facts are quite simply in. Anti-Asian racism is very much real – and sometimes it is very much violent. This wound cuts all that much deeper when some would blithely insist that our reality is mere fiction – that because they have the privilege of not having to live this trauma on a day-to-day basis, it must not be all that real or all that bad.
“Many will only see or pretend to care about us after we are targeted or attacked or murdered — because, as another Asian American writer said to me last week, we are only relevant to them when we are suffering?” writes Nicole Chung in her Atlantic newsletter. I agree – if they even bother to look at all.
This willful ignorance is its own form of devastation.
Correction: It has been six years since Trump’s election, not ten — even if under COVID, time feels like it has stretched into infinity. I apologize for the error.