“We are loyal Americans.”
Those four words set the tone for a conversation on Monday about the unending hate that has been directed at Asians and Asian-Americans in the United States.
They were spoken by Brian Sun, a partner at the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm, who moderated a panel at the inaugural Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which is taking place this week in Pittsburgh.
The panelists included Don Liu, the executive vice president and chief legal and risk officer at the popular superstore Target; Sonal Shah, the president of the Asian American Foundation; and John Yang, the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The panelists identified multiple reasons why Asians and Asian-Americans remain constant targets of hate and victims of hate crimes.
Liu suggested that “the legal system has, in fact, been letting the Asian-American community down” for decades, a reality that emboldens more people to attack Asians while making Asians less confident that speaking out will do any good. Yang reminded the in person and online audience of “the stereotype of the perpetual foreigner,” which has had a corrosive effect on generations of Americans who have been led to believe that Asians are not real Americans. Sun discussed that in more recent times certain politicians have attempted to score political points by claiming Asians, especially Chinese, are eager to “steal sensitive U.S. technology” and share it with their home countries. These and other reasons — including Hollywood and media stereotyping of Asians as either poor or associated with criminal gangs — contribute to enforcing a dangerous cultural phenomenon in which White America believes it is protecting the country from a dangerous threat.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic served to heighten this problem; the panelists agreed that former president Donald Trump’s vile rhetoric about China and the Chinese people set the stage for the wave of acts of hate and hate crimes over the past 21 months. The worst example was the murder of eight people, six of them Asian women, in Atlanta earlier this year at the hands of a White man. No one should have been surprised by that; Yang said 75 percent of people who attack Asians are Caucasian. And overall there have been at least 9,000 anti-Asian incidents since 2020.
Shah spoke of the intense fear elderly Asians have felt as they have walked through their cities and neighborhoods since early last year; they are the most vulnerable of all Asians because of their physical limitations. Liu added that many elderly also will not seek to either report what happened to them or press charges if their attacker is caught.
Shah said that one of the best ways to counter hate is to be able to document it, and her organization is at the forefront of ensuring accurate and consistent reporting mechanisms are in place. With such evidence, she said, politicians can see how bad the problem is and (hopefully) commit themselves to doing something. Liu suggested that constant public pressure also is essential because politicians will not act unless they fear their jobs are on the line. Each encouraged younger people of Asian descent to be the voice the entire Asian community needs now and into the future.
Recognizing that anti-Asia sentiments in the U.S. can be traced to at least the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was signed into law in 1882, it will take years of sustained efforts to convince Americans that such hate has no place in this country.
It is impossible to escape America’s history of the degradation of minority groups. Blacks continue to lag behind Whites in critical socio-economic categories even though slavery was ended more than 150 years ago. A host of immigrant groups, whether from Europe, Latin America or Asia, have been publicly and privately humiliated over time. Meanwhile, women and members of multiple religious groups have been targets of campaigns designed to make them feel less American than others.
This animosity cannot be overcome unless the highest political office in the land down through the most rural of communities wants it to. There are plenty of reasons to doubt there is momentum to do that.
As a reminder of that, remember that the summit is being held in Pittsburgh, where a gunman murdered 11 people and wounded six others in a domestic terrorist attack in a synagogue three years ago this month. His stated goal: Kill as many Jews as he could.
Hate is everywhere in the United States, and right now Asians are perceived as Enemy No. 1. How very sad.