Asian Americans have reported a surge in hate crimes, including physical violence and harassment, since the outbreak of COVID-19. Health crises such as pandemics have historically been linked to stigmatization and discrimination against Asian people. From their arrival in America in the late 1700s, Asian Americans have faced verbal and physical abuse driven by personal racism and xenophobia. Discriminatory rhetoric and exclusionary policies have also been supported by the state, sustaining this violence at the institutional level. Insecurity and fear of foreigners have been exacerbated by COVID-19, leading to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, perpetuating inequality at individual and institutional levels.
What does one mean by a hate crime?
Hate crimes are a pernicious form of violence that target individuals or groups based on their membership or perceived membership in certain social or racial categories, such as ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability, in the form of physical violence, property damage, harassment, and even murder. Hate crimes are distinct from hate speech, which refers to specific types of language that incite hatred or discrimination. Furthermore, while a hate crime is a criminal act, a ‘hate incident’ is noncriminal behavior driven by prejudice, which can potentially culminate into a hate crime.
The rippling consequences of hate crimes
The psychological effects of hate crimes can be profound and far-reaching, not just for the individuals who are directly affected but also for others. Victims of hate crimes that were motivated by hate and prejudice have been shown to have higher levels of psychological distress, including symptoms of despair and anxiety, than those of crimes not perpetuated due to xenophobia or racism. The following reasons for such an evaluation were addressed in a 1999 study:
- Hate crimes cause psychological and emotional harm as well as self-esteem issues to the individual victim.
- Hate crimes create a generalized fear among the targeted group.
- Hate crimes have a ripple effect on other vulnerable groups who associate with the targeted population.
- Hate crimes cause severe melancholy and stress in the entire community.
Hate crimes witnessed during the pandemic
The manifestation of the “Othering” theory
“Othering” is a process of marginalization and exclusion that occurs when a dominant group stigmatizes and excludes non-dominant groups who are racially different or lack a sense of “civic belonging”. This process is rooted in prejudice and fear and strengthens the dominant group’s perception of their own “normalcy” while categorizing those who are different as “abnormal.” This historical and ongoing process results in the disempowerment and social exclusion of marginalized groups.
Historical experiences of “othering” by Asian Americans
The projected immigration population of Asians in the US has grown dramatically yet prejudice and hate against them have been ongoing and they are frequently blamed for spreading disease during pandemics, and Asian Americans have historically been “othered” as an edifice and falsely portrayed as a model minority. This has resulted in microaggressions, hate crimes, and other forms of discrimination, like being labeled ‘dirty’ or ‘sickly’ during the pandemic. Asian Americans have been targeted regardless of their multiethnic identity, especially during times of economic instability, adversity, insurgency, or epidemic.
Burgeoning Anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic
In addition to prosecuting racial assaults against Asians and individuals of Asian origin, governments should take immediate action to stop racist and xenophobic violence and prejudice associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a statement released by Human Rights Watch. Antonio Guterres stated that a “tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering around the world” and he asked states to “act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate“. Government officials and political parties in various countries have used the COVID-19 pandemic to spread anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and white supremacist beliefs. This has resulted in an increase in hate crimes against minorities, including Asians.
Recent COVID-19 hate crime incidents in the US
Over the past year, more than 6,600 hate crimes have been reported against Asian-Americans, according to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate. Over the two years that the COVID-19 virus was widespread, several cases of violence and hate crimes in public spaces came up in the US. Some of the most preposterous attacks include homicide of an 84-year-old Thai immigrant on his daily walk in San Francisco, a 91-year-old senior being pushed to the ground in Oakland, assault and setting on fire an 89-year-old Chinese woman in Brooklyn, six Asian-American women being were shot at work in Atlanta, stabbing of two Asian American ladies at a bus stand in San Francisco, among countless others.
Asian-American community lacked timely and sufficient support during the rise of hate speech in the US, possibly influenced by Trump and Pompeo’s use of “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” in 2020. While Trump later stopped doing so, he did not call for government action either. In contrast, President Biden did bring out reforms to protect the Asian-American community in 2021.
Related issues with COVID-19 hate crimes in the US
Hate crimes often go unreported due to obstacles that hinder victims from reporting to local police, resulting in underreporting and a partial picture of the prevalence of hate crimes. Language barriers can also prevent Asian immigrants from reporting victimization. Additionally, mistrust of law enforcement and concerns about immigration status may deter victims from reporting hate crimes.