Did Valentine’s Day 2021 put love, rather than the coronavirus, in the air? Well, yes and no. Retailers made sure we didn’t forget that the only acceptable way to show our love is to buy things, the more expensive the better, for our beloved. But warm and fuzzy feelings for our fellow man are AWOL; even managing civility for him is seemingly a challenge. Beware if you are of a different race from someone else–particularly if you are Asian American. Arrows are aimed at you, and they aren’t from Cupid; they’re a message (and not of love) from your neighbor.
The coronavirus isn’t the only thing spreading in this country. News reports indicate a wave of anti-Asian violence and harassment here in the U.S. Why racism against Asians and why now? Comments by then President Trump earlier in the pandemic referring to the “China flu” or the “Kung Flu” are believed to have spurred this animosity. Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was clearly clueless.
The loveless sentiment directed at Asian Americans affects millions of people. According to 2016 census figures, Asian Americans number approximately 21 million, a majority of whom were foreign born. In fact, Asian Americans constitute one-fourth of all immigrants who have arrived in this country since 1965. The overall population of Asian Americans is highly urbanized and are concentrated in California and the western United States. Their highest populations can be found in the areas of Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. But in today’s climate, San Francisco’s Chinatown, the nation’s oldest and largest, may not be a safe place for Asian Americans. Their San Francisco treat could be hatred and violence rather than Rice-a-Roni.
Since actions speak louder than words, videos portraying physical assaults on Asian Americans have spoken volumes about the current climate of racial tolerance–or more accurately, the lack thereof. A gut-wrenching clip of a 91 year old man in Oakland’s Chinatown captured him being pushed face down into the sidewalk from behind in an unprovoked attack. Robbery was not the motive–hate and racism were the motivating factors. On the bright side, the attacker did have a mask due to the pandemic. (Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq4mHOtPQD0 to see the video.)
Sadly, that attack is just one of a growing number of incidents where Asian Americans are the victims. The president of Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce cited more than 20 incidents of small businesses getting robbed and owners and customers assaulted recently. In light of such attacks, neighborhood safety patrols began handing out whistles in San Francisco along with Chinese-language pamphlets titled “How to Report a Hate Crime.” Under these circumstances, whistling while a Chinese small business owner works is not as peppy a thought as when the dwarves whistled while working in “Snow White.”
Where such physical violence occurs, women and people over age 60 are disproportionately targeted. Authorities suggest older Asians are targeted due to the stereotype they don’t report crimes due to language barriers. The physical attacks targeting senior citizens left many older Asian fearful of going out to shop for the Lunar New Year which fell on February 12th. 2021 may be the Year of the Ox, but such shameful behavior against seniors is frankly, bull.
Heartwarmingly, some people not only care about Asian Americans, but they have stepped up to the plate to help their neighbors of a different race. Take Jacob Azevedo, a Latino, for instance. Disturbed by the violence directed at Asian Americans, he put a call out on Instagram offering to accompany anyone in Chinatown going out to the store, running errands, etc. Jacob’s reasoning is likely based on what my dear Mom always said, “Safety in numbers.” In response, hundreds of people on Instagram offered to help. In addition, thousands of dollars were donated to help him buy a personal alarm device to be distributed to older Asians in the community. Now there’s an example of showing love to your fellow man.
Incidents of hate and violence against Asian Americans, sadly, have not been limited to the West Coast. The NYPD has created an Asian Hate Crimes task force to deal with the upsurge in targeting of Asians in the Big Apple. According to that department’s statistics, only one anti-Asian incident was reported in 2019. In contrast, during the first six months of 2020, which saw the initial rise of the pandemic, 20 such incidents were reported. New Yorkers aren’t known for their friendliness, but there’s no excuse for outright hate.
Other organizations are also reporting disturbing incidents. Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander–hopefully not pronounced Ape-y) Hate, an initiative formed in 2020, received over 2,800 reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020 and December 31 2020. Of these incidents, 71% were verbal abuse while physical assaults accounted for around 9%. Sure those numbers are way lower than the cases of the coronavirus, but even one incident of hate is too many.
The problem of targeting of Asian Americans in our country has received attention at the highest possible level. In response to this sad situation, President Biden signed a memorandum on January 26, 2021 directing federal agencies to explore ways of combating racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. And, of course, everyone knows that xenophobia is a big word meaning dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries, right? Hey, but wait. Aren’t ALL of us Americans ultimately from other countries? My ancestors, for example came from Ireland.
While President Biden is to be applauded for acknowledging the inexcusable behavior directed at Asian Americans and ordering steps to be taken to address it, government directives aren’t going to solve the problem. A change of heart is required because hearts filled with hate produce hate. Recognizing that someone of a different race is our neighbor and a human being deserving of the decent treatment we would ourselves expect helps to soften hearts hardened with hate. Unfortunately, it’s not only love that may be blind, but hate as well.
How ironic it is to see hearts displayed everywhere for Valentine’s Day 2021with all being urged to show their love to that special someone when hate is literally being dished out to certain others. Shouldn’t our behavior be consistent? We need to love our sweeties, certainly, but we also need to at least be civil to our fellow man–including Asian Americans. Even better, let’s aim to follow Jesus’ directive to love one another, and let’s do it not simply on Valentine’s Day but EVERY day.
Is there an Asian American population in your community? Have you ever been treated poorly because of your race? How did that make you feel? If you haven’t, do you imagine it would be a pleasant experience? Does an individual’s racial background alone justify physical violence against him?