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Friday, April 30, 2021, 14:54
Hate and prejudice
By Alfred Romann
Friday, April 30, 2021, 14:54 By Alfred Romann

Protesters demand action against violence targeting Asians at a rally in San Jose, California, on Sunday. (DONG XUDONG / XINHUA)

The video clips are shocking, unexpected, startling, terrifying for anyone with a semblance of a conscience.

A slight Asian woman walks down a New York street toward a hulking tower of a man walking in the opposite direction. When he gets close enough, the man kicks her on the chest, hard, and without any warning. The 65-year-old lady falls. He proceeds to stomp her on the head while she lies on the ground. A pair of security guards inside the building from where a video is filmed is seen doing absolutely nothing.

In another clip, an Asian man is collecting thrown-away bottles and cans in New York when he is stomped from behind repeatedly. Once on the ground, a man in black jacket and pants kicks him multiple times in the head before fleeing the location. The Asian is now struggling for life in hospital after falling into deep coma.

These particular attacks were only among the latest in an increasingly long list of similarly disturbing incidents: A Thai immigrant to the United States died after he was pushed down to the ground; a Filipino-American man was slashed across the face with a box cutter; and a Chinese woman was slapped on the face and set on fire!

Stop AAPI Hate, a US advocacy group, said it received around 3,800 reports of such incidents across the United States over the previous year, with more than two-thirds being verbal assaults but almost 9 percent involving actual physical assaults — punching, pushing, kicking, cutting or setting someone on fire.

The uptick in racist attacks against people who “look” Asian is happening in much of the Western world.

In Canada, the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter said in a report in March that anti-Asian racism has reached a crisis point, with 1,150 racist incidents reported between March 2020 and February 2021, with 11 percent of the attacks involving a physical attack or unwanted physical contact.

More could have been done to limit the uptick in racism. More education would have helped. And less spewing of racist rhetoric from leaders like former US president Donald Trump or others who have the same mindset.

Trump actively encouraged discrimination against Chinese people as a way to distract, detract and score political points. He used this strategy to limited effect politically; at the end of the day, he lost the election, but he was quite successful at breeding hate, as evidenced by the increase in racist attacks. He was hardly the first leader to use racism and discrimination to distract. 

And the link between upticks in racism and pandemic outbreaks is hardly new. Asians also faced discrimination during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, after 2002.

During the 1918 Spanish flu, immigrants to the US were blamed for spreading the disease even though they had little to do with it. Even the name was misleading, as there is no conclusive evidence that the pandemic originated in Spain, with the first reported case actually coming from a military base in Kansas.

The increase in anti-Asian racism this time around does not come as a surprise.

In early 2020, authorities in most Western countries predicted that violence against Asian people would rise. They were not wrong. By the end of the year, the United Nations had noted an “alarming level” of racial violence and other incidents of hate against Asian people in the US.

By almost any measure, anti-Asian racism is becoming more prevalent and more vicious.

The perpetrators, acting on their racial instincts without self-control or a moral compass, often use the COVID-19 pandemic to justify their hate. That is an easy and meaningless excuse. There is no one reason that can justify kicking someone walking down the street or setting someone on fire, regardless of race or where they are.

In these instances, the targets have been people who “look” Asian: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and at times Indians. In one case in Canada a few months ago, a woman of Eskimo heritage was attacked in a park.

Of course, the racism that is now focused on Asian people is not happening in any kind of bubble.

Racism and discrimination had been a mainstay in virtually all societies. It is important for those of us who have not gotten the short end of this particular stick to understand this. It is important to understand that privilege is not a license to keep others down or vent our frustrations from life, money, job or whatever on others or, worse, to use race as a justification.

The recent uptick of violence against Asian people or people who look Asian reveals a widespread ignorance and lack of humanity that is revealed in all racism.

Groups are beginning to take action with coordinated protests and demonstrations. They are standing up against discrimination and racism. Police agencies are issuing more warnings. Demonstrations and protests have become more frequent.

Ending this type of violence based on misinformation is no easy task. 

What is certain is that long-term cost in lives and societal hatred is out of all proportion to the short-term political gains of those who spread the hate.

The author is managing director of Bahati, an editorial services agency based in Hong Kong. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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