Why I Am A Hater (of Violence Against Asians)

Original artwork by FSSA senior art major, Coralis Rivera.

The breaking point for me came a couple of weeks ago. A sixty-five year old Asian woman was gut-kicked while walking from attending church in the middle of the day. She was walking near midtown-Manhattan. The man, who happens to be a black male, uttered, “F- you, you don’t belong here, you Asian,” and then proceeded to kick her repeatedly, breaking her pelvis. At least three people directly witnessed this assault. One, who was an attendant at the building, closed the door after witnessing this brutal attack.

Just around the corner from my mom’s medical office in Flushing an Asian woman was pushed to the ground in front of a bakery and was called racial slurs.

Accomplished sports players such as Jeremy Lin and, most recently, Yu Chang, noted derogatory remarks made to them by either other players or fans, wholly based on their ethnicity.

There are so many other examples of anti-Asian violence in the past few months that I have lost track. This also includes the horrible shooting last month of six Asian massage workers in Atlanta, Georgia.

Personally, my first experience with racial insults came when I was five. It was 2008 and the Olympics were hosted by Beijing. I was attending kindergarden at my local school when another student told me that the U.S. was going to kill the Chinese at every sport. China actually ended up winning more Olympic gold medals than any other nation, but I was confused by the comment because I never said anything about the Olympics and had never given any thought about my Asian appearance.

A few years later, I went to go visit my grandparents at a family reunion in Kansas City. We went out to eat at a steak restaurant. There were 14 of us in total and each of us was Asian. We had a reservation. Six groups that came after us were seated first, including one that had a group of 12 without a reservation. I thought that was odd, but I was just a kid. My dad and grandfather stormed out and I found out later that they had both written letters to the manager.

I will be the first to tell you that I don’t consider myself a victim of racial violence. I’ve never been beaten or threatened with physical violence due to my race. I realize more now than I did a few years ago how fortunate my experience has been in the U.S. compared to others.

But if I am to be very honest with myself, I have always had a nagging feeling that my acceptance in this country was conditional.

It is conditioned on my not causing any waves. It is conditioned on my doing well in school. It is conditioned on me either being a doctor, lawyer, programmer, engineer, professor, architect or some other “acceptable” profession. And these conditions came from the highest possible non-religious source – the U.S. government. To this day, the best and most common way for a person of Asian descent to immigrate to this country is by means of one of these professions.

To this day, the Chinese (which is my Asian ancestry) remain the only ethnic group to be specifically excluded from the U.S. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred immigration to the U.S. of people from China. Why? Because the Chinese worked harder, better and for less pay than the non-Chinese (i.e. white) workers. The Chinese essentially built large portions of this nation’s first transcontinental railroads. For these efforts, Chinese were vilified, dehumanized, and in several instances, killed viciously. One particularly horrific incident happened in 1885 in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Frustration against Chinese workers by the unionized, largely white miners and railroad workers, boiled over a day-long methodical massacre of Chinese residents.

It was not just that these Chinese miners were killed. It was that many of them were mutilated and descrated. There were reports of the systematic dismembering of Chinese bodies. At least one Chinese miner killed had his penis and testicles cut off, roasted and displayed at a local bar. Adding further outrage was that the press coverage following the Rock Springs massacre generally favored the “plights” of the white miners and their economic grievances.

Additionally, Japanese American citizens were rounded up by the U.S. government to live in concentration camps during WW II. More than 40 years later, the U.S. government apologized and gave survivors $20,000. What a joke.

For the better part of 80 years the Chinese remained largely excluded from the U.S. When the immigration rules loosened in the mid-1960’s, preferred classes of immigrants from Asian countries remained those the “higher-level” professions. These preferences still largely exist today. But this country’s ambivalence and conditional acceptance of Asians remains. Any general volitility against Asians could set off another round of Asian hate.

There was another case in the 1980’s with Vincent Chin. Chin was beaten to death with baseball bats by two Detroit auto workers who were frustrated at the Japanese for taking away Detroit auto jobs. Chin is Chinese. None of the two culprits were sentenced to jail. They only paid a criminal fine of $3,000. The judge said of that these two men were “not the kind you send to jail.” Fast forward to 2020 with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. The former Trump administration dead-set against accepting any blame for botching response to the virus, deflected blame to the Chinese, directly blaming China for the virus.

Is it any surprise that the rise in violence against Asians coincides with the prior administration’s anti-China messaging?

There is a clear and unmistakable pattern in the DNA of this nation of racism. There is racism against Asians. Racism against Blacks. Racism against Hispanics. Racism (and genocide) against Native Americans. The main problem I think is the persistent denial that it exists, or, what I find particularly infuriating, the rationalization of actions as being not racially motivated.

Racism in this country is so ingrained that most people do not even recognize it. And this also includes minorities, especially Asians, many of whom just want to continue to live their lives in peace.

Those (and I think there are plenty) who deny or ignore the existence of racism hope that by not addressing the problem, it will go away. But it won’t go away. And standing back and allowing violence to be committed against Asians and other minorities will only make the problem worse. It was that way back in 1882; it is now; and it will be again in the future unless we make meaningful changes.

I, for one, will not sit back and see my mother or grandmother live in fear of being attacked when going shopping or on the subway. We, as a united community of minorities, need to defend ourselves and force everyone to acknowledge the continued existence of racism in this country. Only then can we start to make real progress towards true equality.

– by Alister Paul ’22