Xenophobia and racism have long existed throughout human society, but in recent years the increasing documentation of these instances has propelled civil rights issues into the spotlight. Today, I would like to focus this spotlight on the recent deluge of hate crimes against Asian American individuals in the US. While people of Asian decent have always faced certain prejudices, the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, has been linked to a significant increase in violence against Asian Americans. According to Time Magazine, “hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment jumped 1,900% in New York City in 2020”. Many of the victims have been elderly, including 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee who was assaulted one morning in January and died just two days later.
Asian Americans have faced a long, and often overlooked, history of discrimination and prejudice, dating all the way back to when the United States was first formed. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 forbid any Chinese immigrants from entering the country due to their race. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese internment camps were set up in various cities throughout the western portion of the United States, and anyone of Japanese descent could be relocated and forcibly confined in these camps. Other instances of racism may not be as obvious at first glance. For example, many Asian individuals have experienced being “lumped together” with other Asians, despite being from wildly different countries. The Asian continent, which includes 48 different countries, encompasses many different cultures, skin colors, and languages. For Asian Americans, being asked if they know someone just because they are both Asian or if they can speak Chinese just because they have Asian features may be well-meaning questions, but have racist undertones.
Racism, no matter what race it is against, and xenophobia need to end. Civil rights issues need to be addressed. Individuals need to stand by our fellow Asian American citizens in fighting for equality. Anthropology is about understanding and exploring different cultures, breaking down the barriers between different groups of people, and expanding the scope of one’s worldview. By diving into the divisions between our cultures, I hope to encourage the healing of racial divides across America.