Published: 17:47, August 10, 2020 | Updated: 20:23, June 5, 2023
Epidemic of hate as attacks on Asian Americans grow
By Belinda Robinson

Four prominent Asian Americans says prejudice, racism and physical attacks against their community have increased at alarming rates over assertions that Chinese people are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Whenever there is a contentious relationship with any part of Asia from the United States, the racism inside the United States goes up against Asians," said Jerry Yang, co-founder and former chief executive of Yahoo! "We are at such a moment, in my belief."

Yang made his remarks at a virtual event organized by the National Committee on United States-China Relations on Wednesday. He was joined by Anla Cheng, founder and chief executive of SupChina; Erika Lee, a professor of American history and director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota; and Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America.

Whenever there is a contentious relationship with any part of Asia from the United States, the racism inside the United States goes up against Asians.

Jerry Yang, Co-founder and former chief executive of Yahoo

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Between March and June 2,100 anti-Asian American hate crimes related to COVID-19 were committed, Chinese advocacy groups say, 10 percent of them physical.

In Brooklyn, New York, a Chinese American woman, 89, was set on fire by two men. The woman had just left her home on July 14 when the men slapped her in the face and set her clothes on fire. She was able to rub her back against a wall to put out the flames but suffered burns.

"The pain I felt for that 89-year-old woman," Maasbach said. "I am angry. But we need to use and channel that anger into better educating others. We need to own our identity the way we should."

In another attack, an Asian American, 16, was attacked at school in San Fernando Valley, California, after being accused of having the coronavirus. He suffered a concussion and was taken to the hospital.

"What's happening (to Asians) today, of course, has long historical roots," Lee said. "It is certainly, as Jerry mentioned, in relationship to what is happening on a global scale in terms of the rising tension between the US and China, but also the pandemic has revived longstanding racist anti-immigration narratives.

Against discrimination

"It's part of the United States' long history of xenophobia and the irrational fear and hatred of immigrants, and, in particular, disease epidemics have always played a really important role in shaping racism in leading to hate crimes."

A spate of hate crimes committed against Chinese has prompted the New York state Attorney-General, Letitia James, to set up a hotline to which victims can report coronavirus-related incidents. The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, said he had seen a "huge increase" in assaults against Asian Americans in his state.

In an effort to document the crimes, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council set up a website called Stop AAPI Hate on which people can report assaults. AAPI stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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"I want to point out how prevalent assaults are (against Chinese) in the New York area," Cheng said. "It even happened to my assistant, who is Malaysian Chinese, and her partner, who were both thrown to the ground.

"Her revenge was that she got to be on the front page of the New York Post, and they did catch the assailant two months later. Another thing that I was shocked to see was that in Rockville, Maryland, most gun buyers in March were Chinese Americans. This is how afraid Americans are."

US President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly been criticized for branding COVID-19 "the Chinese virus".

All of the panelists agreed that it was important for Asians to support each other and other ethnic groups facing racial abuse, particularly in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25 when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.