By Harry To
After I started paying closer attention to politics, I’ve noticed a dichotomy in the way some Republicans treat Asian Americans.
I say Republicans, because most Democrats, as ineffectual as they may be in combating systemic racism, at least acknowledge that it exists.
This is in stark contrast to Republicans, who have referred to Asians in insulting ways to my face, and denied that they were racist, all in the same interaction.
On one hand, Asian Americans are placed on a pedestal, framed as the “model minority” of which other minorities (often implying Black people) should follow the lead. A group too white to be a minority, but too minority to be white.
Of course, this view disregards the fact that Asian Americans are the poorest group in New York City, and country-wide income averages are skewed by recent Asian immigrants.
On another, Asian Americans are the communist invaders bringing about “cultural Marxism,” while also being the perpetrators of COVID-19, or “China virus,” as former President Donald Trump (R) likes to call it. Meanwhile, conservatives will deny that the use of the term “China virus” has led to a rise in anti-Asian sentiment.
Asian Americans have even been used as pawns in promoting right-wing policies. When affirmative action was making rounds in the news, a prominent conservative lawyer, Edward Blum, did everything he could to dismantle it.
For Fisher II, a supreme court case that had the backing of prominent Republican politicians, Blum strategized that he specifically “needed Asian plaintiffs” to gain leverage in his attempts to dismantle affirmative action, a policy where 70% of Asian Americans are in favor.
Now, Asian hate crimes are up nearly 150%, and conservative media would rather scapegoat Black people while denying its role in perpetuating anti-Asian sentiment. Trump referred to COVDI-19 as the “China virus” on Fox News the same night eight people were murdered in Atlanta — six of whom were Asian women.
In many ways, this reminds me of how Muslims were treated in the aftermath of 9/11. Hate crimes spiked, and people who weren’t even Muslim were murdered in the name of patriotism.
At the same time, Muslims were gaslighted into believing that the hatred wasn’t against Muslims as a whole, but just terrorists. Now, the xenophobic rhetoric that conservative outlets adopted after the events of 9/11 has found a new target: Asian Americans.
The same cultural ignorance that led to everybody from the Middle East becoming demonized is the same cultural ignorance that’s leading to everybody from Asia becoming demonized.
A fear I have is that the pandemic will become a tipping point in the way Asians are perceived in this country. Like how anti-Muslim sentiment grew and persisted over the decades, becoming a talking point for Republican policies such as the Muslim travel ban or Trump’s attempt at a Muslim registry.
This rise in anti-Asian sentiment has affected the lives of many Asians around the world, including myself.
Many of my peers are scared to go outside in public, afraid that they may be harassed simply because they look different.
Some I know have started buying pepper spray, and fortified their businesses in fear of vandalism.
My parents even persuade me to take expensive Uber rides rather than take the subway because they’re afraid that I might become a statistic.
Most important to me, however, is that this past year has been a reminder that conservatives have been on the wrong side of almost every issue. Women’s rights, civil rights, and slavery.
Three turning points in American history where most of us look back and realize that they were good things, even if at the time the country didn’t realize it. But on every issue, conservatives have been on the wrong side.
Now, the largest civil rights movement in history, Black Lives Matter, is marching in the street to protest systemic injustices.
Recently, Asian Americans started marching in the street to condemn the rise in hate crimes.
But what have conservatives marched for? They marched for the anti-suffrage movement in an attempt to deny women equal rights. They marched for the anti-civil rights movement in an attempt to deny minorities equal rights. And they marched into the capital, in a delusional attempt to subvert the election.
If anything, this is just another example of why unity between marginalized groups is so important. Because in every instance, conservatives have attempted and failed to make our lives more difficult.
As individuals, we are weak, but as a collective, nobody can mess with us. We just have to remember that when one of us falls, that’s one less ally in the fight against hate.
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Martin Niemöller
Harry To is a journalism major at Stony Brook University