History Department Statement on Anti-Asian Violence
In the last year, almost 4,000 Asian Americans have been the victim of hate crimes in the United States—a spike of 149% from 2019— part of a wave of anti-Asian harassment and violence associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. We stand in solidarity with Asian Americans and urge an understanding of the pernicious historical legacy of anti-Asian hate, acknowledging that such attitudes and actions have deep roots in the American story.
From associations with disease to “model minority” stereotypes, Asians have long been Othered in American culture. In all these cases, the underlying assumption is that Asians are not fully American, that despite the many generations of settlement here they remain foreign and unassimilated. Originally recruited as cheap labor for the Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese immigrants were confined to backbreaking manual and service labor and violently attacked in California, Washington, Colorado, and other western states throughout the 1870s and 80s after the Railroad was completed. Violence and discrimination kept Asians confined to Chinatowns and other segregated enclaves. With calls of “the Chinese must go!” Asians were the first immigrant group to be excluded from legal immigration to the US in 1882, setting the stage for larger race-based quotas in 1924. During World War II 142,000 Japanese Americans, some of them third generation U.S. citizens, were incarcerated in internment camps and classified as alien enemies. Families lost their businesses, land, and dignity. Resettled Vietnamese refugees were attacked in Texas in the early 1980s. In 1982 Chinese American Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by autoworkers blaming Asians for the larger decline of the auto industry. American Sikhs were targeted after the 9/11 attacks. In all these cases, attitudes toward Asian Americans rehearse an old script of “Yellow Peril,” in which Asians are a threat to the American way of life.
Intersections of race and gender also shape this pattern of violence now and historically. The 1875 Page Law, which set the stage for Asian exclusion, banned Chinese women specifically from immigrating to the US on the pretext that they would engage in prostitution, codifying the sexualization and objectification of Asian women and condemning Chinese communities to the status of “bachelor societies,” further cementing a sense of gender and sexual deviance. Sexualized stereotypes of Asian women continue to inform the culture and in 2020 Asian women were roughly 2x more likely to report being the target of hate attacks.
Since 1965 Asians have been one of the fastest growing groups in the nation. In Atlanta, Asians comprise over 5% of the regional population, growing 65% in the first decade of the 2000s alone. Asian American communities are often overlooked in stories of racism but have been active in combatting discrimination in housing and education historically, making important contributions to American life. In sympathy for the victims’ families and their communities, we can and must make this legacy a thing of the past.
In this call we are joined by our fellow historians of the American Historical Association, which has issued a statement on violence against Asians and Asian Americans.
On the spike in hate crimes against Asians, see Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. On hate incidents since March 2020, the Stop AAI Hate coalition catalogued over 3,800 hateful incidents against Asian Americans during the first year of the pandemic. Women reported incidents 2.3 more often than men and Chinese Americans constituted the highest percentage of victims.