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In the last few months, there have been plenty of articles and stories emphasizing racial tension between the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Black communities.
This is especially true in the wake of anti-Asian violence spiking in America.
The faces of the assailants are often portrayed as Black. This is curious, since the majority of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States are committed by white men.
In fact, a
Though the study was based on data from 1992 to 2014, the current numbers are likely much higher, as anti-Asian violence surged 164 percent in 16 of America’s largest cities since this time last year.
The spike is attributed to the resurgence of Sinophobia, or anti-Chinese sentiment, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These attitudes were amplified by the racist rhetoric of political leaders, like former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Still, this is not new.
The narrative of violent young Black men is a false one, but the grip of anti-Blackness on the United States is powerful. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Black community is often blamed.
Many members of the AAPI community have bought into the lies, furthering distrust and tension.
A 2021 study reported that 75 percent of anti-Asian hate crime assailants were white men.
Truthfully, violence against Asians in America is not new. The ignorance about AAPI history in the United States only contributes to this continued erasure, a subtler form of racialized violence.
For many people, recent headlines are new, like that of 84-year-old Thai man Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was pushed and killed in San Francisco, or that of a 61-year-old Filipino man, who was slashed across the face while riding the subway in New York.
Although this might have been the first time many people heard about it, the history of violence towards Asian people goes back centuries.
Chinese immigrants were targeted by white people almost immediately after they entered California during the Gold Rush in 1850.
State lawmakers levied heavy foreign miners’ taxes, and white prospectors routinely forced Chinese miners off their claims and attacked them.
The Chinese, like Black people and Native Americans, were prohibited from testifying against white people in court. As a result, white people could assault Chinese people with impunity and were rarely punished.
Though lynching in America is often associated with violence against Black people, the largest mass lynching in America occurred in 1871 in Los Angeles, CA. A mob of 500 white people stormed Chinatown, brutalizing and then hanging approximately 18 Chinese immigrants while an onlooking crowd cheered.
During the Reconstruction era, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) targeted Chinese workers in the West while their brethren went after Black Americans in the South. The KKK perpetrated more than a dozen attacks on Chinese immigrants in California, Utah, and Oregon between 1868 and 1870. The attacks in California ranged from threats of violence to arson.
This doesn’t include the 1929 and 1930 anti-Filipino riots in Exeter and Watsonville, CA — or the forced incarceration of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans as a result of Executive Order 9066 during World War II.
Nor does it include 27-year-old Chinese American Vincent Chin, who was slain in Detroit by two white autoworkers in 1982.
Why are AAPI and Black communities continually pitted against each other despite both groups suffering from acts of racism, violence, and blatant discrimination?
There are already many AAPI and Black folks, mutual aid groups, and communities working together. Why does the narrative rarely focus on that?
There’s a history of mutual allyship and support, yet stereotypes persist.
Most people, including Asian Americans, have never heard of Asian American activists, such as Grace Lee Boggs or Yuri Kochiyama. Both worked alongside African American civil rights leaders, like Malcolm X.
Given the fact that the majority of anti-Asian violence is committed by white men, we must ask ourselves: “Who does it serve to make the face of anti-Asian hate a Black man?”
It obviously doesn’t serve Black communities, but it doesn’t serve the AAPI communities either.
The real culprit is white supremacy, and it serves no one.
“They’re only showing those videos because [they] are the jewels of white supremacy,” explains Melanie Rhee, LCSW.
Rhee is intimately familiar with the intersections of the AAPI and Black communities. She offers unique insight as a biracial Black and white American woman married to a Korean American man with whom she has two kids.
“They created these situations where we hated each other,” she says. “We couldn’t unify toward the real oppressor. We’re so built into believing all these things about other minority communities.”
Rhee sums up the issue by referencing a recent article in The Nation about the attacks against critical race theory.
“White people like to keep their kids dumb… about issues of racism. Because if they really knew the truth — if they were raised knowing the truth — then the whole system would crumble,” she says.
“White people like to keep their kids dumb… about issues of racism. Because if they really knew the truth… then the whole system would crumble.”
— Melanie Rhee
So much of our mutual oppression is rooted in the willful miseducation of American children who grow up to be American adults.
The vast majority of people don’t realize just how ingrained white supremacy and revisionist history are in American culture.
This harms everyone, even white folks.
Navigating race can be very complicated, especially when it intersects with other areas, such as class, sexual identity, and immigration.
Here are some resources for both the AAPI and Black communities as a starting point.
Black Past is an online resource that collects information, archives, and primary sources of African and African American history in a centralized location.
Dragon Fruit Project
Dragon Fruit Project is an archive of the oral histories of multiple generations of LGBTQIA+ AAPI individuals. There are occasionally video archives as well.
For those of us who experience or witness harassment in our daily lives, we often freeze and don’t know what to do. Hollaback! offers resources and training to empower us to end harassment.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
The NAACP is a U.S. civil rights organization that fights race-based discrimination and supports the rights of all people of color.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
The national museum is exclusively dedicated to documenting the African American experience, as well as collecting and promoting contributions by African Americans. Whether you’re looking for oral histories, culture, or life, you can find it here.
Virulent Hate Project
An interdisciplinary research initiative, the Virulent Hate Project studies anti-Asian racism and Asian American activism, identifying trends in how Asian and Asian American people experience and combat racism.
White supremacy gets some of its power by deflecting attention away from itself. By pitting the AAPI and Black communities against one another, white supremacy is free to continue unchallenged.
To truly dismantle these harmful stereotypes, white people — and folks who uphold white supremacy – must actively fight these narratives. This includes Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, AAPI communities, white people, and those who identify as something else.
When we collectively get informed and put the onus back where it belongs, we’re weakening the foundation that white supremacy relies on.
When we begin to see through the misinformation and liberate ourselves from false narratives, we’re on the way to true freedom for everyone.
Virginia Duan is the entertainment editor for Mochi Magazine and you can find her work on various sites like Scary Mommy, Romper, Mom.com, Diverging Mag, and Mochi Magazine. She reacts to K-pop on YouTube, hosts the Noona ARMY Podcast, and founded BrAzn AZN, a series for Asian Pacific Islander Desi American creatives. Located in the Bay Area of California, she bilingual homeschools her four kids in Chinese and English. You can follow her at mandarinmama.com.