Last year, I wrote about the spike in incidents of anti-Asian harassment, verbal abuse, bullying, and violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the level of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia seemed to have declined, but since the start of 2021, there seems to be a new wave of attacks aimed against Asian Americans and especially against older members of Asian American community. With this in mind, within the Asian & Asian American Studies Certificate Program at UMass Amherst that I direct, we recently created Student Advisory Board and Program Ambassador group of 10 amazing undergraduate students who support the Certificate Program through outreach and programming aimed at undergraduate students at UMass Amherst. They recently released the public statement Titled “Working Towards Anti-Racism and Dismantling White Supremacy” about this resurgence in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia and its connections to anti-Blackness, and I am very proud to reprint it here:
To the UMass Asian American Community & Beyond,
Since the start of 2020, racist and xenophobic incidents against Asians and Asian Americans have spiked, with the website StopAAPIHate reporting over 2,800 incidents of harassment, bullying, verbal assault, and violence since mid-March, and with many, many more going unreported. In recent weeks, there have also been numerous public examples of attacks on Asian Americans, including the death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco and the police shooting of 19-year-old Christian Hall in Monroe County, PA.
These incidents are linked to historical constructions of Asian Americans as the Yellow Peril — an imagined political, economic, or public health threat to U.S. society. In many of these incidents, bystanders failed to offer any assistance to the Asian Americans who were targeted, which also illustrates how Asian Americans continue to be seen as perpetual foreigners and as undeserving outsiders, unworthy of any help or sympathy.
While many other people have rightfully condemned these attacks and expressed support and solidarity with Asian Americans, some have focused almost exclusively on the racial identity of some of the perpetrators of these incidents and specifically, have resorted to using blatantly racist stereotypes against Black people and feeding into anti-Blackness. This rhetoric is not only problematic but also is unproductive in the fight for racial justice. These instances of violence against Asian Americans should not be seen as just a result of individual action, but rather as enabled by systematic violence inherent in white supremacy. As such, we need to continue to center anti-racism discourse and organizing around actively combating anti-Blackness because Black liberation will enable liberation for all other groups.
Hence, it is important that Asian Americans do not contribute to the over-criminalization of communities, particularly communities that are already disadvantaged, marginalized, and underserved. Asian Americans need to reject the ways we have been used as a wedge by white society to further perpetuate violence against Black and Brown communities. We need to focus on the root causes of systemic inequality, rather than resorting to stereotypes that demonize people and contribute to more policing, criminalization, and incarceration of already vulnerable groups. Instead, we call on our political, economic, and community leaders to develop community-based solutions that address root causes of alienation and powerlessness. In addition, our communities need comprehensive assistance for the victims and for the businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic. We need to combat the ways systems of oppression have long deprived all communities of color of the resources and support we need to thrive in America. We as Asian Americans must reject any attempt to weaponize our pain as a tool for white supremacy.
Cross-racial collaboration and solidarity are essential to move forward together and to fight together for justice and equality. With this in mind, we call on Asian Americans to:
- Educate yourself on issues faced by underrepresented communities within the Asian Diaspora and beyond, such as the South Asian, Southeast Asian community, LGBTQ+ community, the Pacific Islander community, and the Black & Brown and Indigenous communities
- Actively learn the history of white supremacy across the world and its relation to the domestic & global exploitation of the BIPOC communities
- Actively confront the ways anti-Blackness shows up in the Asian community and do the work needed to unlearn and dismantle these behaviors and stereotypes so we can better show up for the Black community
- Educate yourself on the history of students of color activism at UMass Amherst and take part in efforts to fight against racism here on campus
- Take Ethnic Studies courses to learn the history and experiences of various racial and ethnic groups
- Support reparations for Black Americans. Contact your elected officials and tell them to support HR 40, a federal bill that will establish a commission to make recommendations for reparations for Black people. It is important that this bill includes a comprehensive reparations plan, so support calls from activists to have bill sponsors make the necessary changes needed to fulfill their demands
We also call on our allies to:
- Learn about the issues faced by various groups under the Asian American & Pacific Islander umbrella and learn about the differences in our experiences and histories
- Learn about the ways white colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism have exploited Asian countries and Pacific Islands
- Learn the origins of the Model Minority Myth & Orientalism and the ways it has been used to make Asians invisible
- Actively dismantle stereotypes that you hold about the Asian community
As the Asian American community we need to actively remember that the root cause of our issues and pain has and always will be the result of whiteness and white supremacy. In order to achieve true racial justice and liberation, we must not lose sight of that.
“We are a society that has been structured from top to bottom by race. You don’t get beyond that by deciding not to talk about it anymore. It will always come back; it will always reassert itself over and over again”. – Kimberle Williams Crenshaw
“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.” – Grace Lee Boggs
Check out Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s list of Resources for the Asian American Community on Anti-Blackness to learn more about the ways you can learn & take action.