Anti-Asian Racism is Not New

By Julia Kemp

A recent rise of Anti-Asian hate crimes in the US today can be linked to the COVID-pandemic and the blame that many Americans are placing on China for the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Nicknames such as the “China Virus” or the “Kung Flu” are blatantly used to blame an entire race for the disgraceful response by the US government to the pandemic. While this rise in Anti-Asian hate is extremely important and this  issue should be discussed thoroughly online, in protests, and in government, many overlook the long and intolerable anti-Asian, racist past that has plagued this country for far too long. This rise in bitterness towards Asians, due to a failure by our own government, is not new, nor should its extensive history be overlooked.

The disregarded history of anti-Asian racism is commonly due to the misconception that Asian Americans are a “model minority”. A model minority is a group (commonly a racial group) that is praised because of their academic, economic, or cultural success compared to other minority groups. However, this label can be problematic because it leads to inaccurate stereotyping and downplays the severity of anti-Asian racism, creating a divide between minority groups. The misconception that all Asian people are good at math, obedient, or submissive, and that those traits guide them to success in America, leads to the obliviousness of anti-Asian racism to many Americans.

So what is the history behind anti-Asian racism in the US? The “yellow peril” phenomenon came to life as westerners began to fear that Asian people would invade western lands and disrupt western values. This fear became fiercer as Chinese immigration to the US became more common. The first large wave of Chinese immigration began during the California Gold Rush, where many Chinese people were attracted to the plentiful gold supply of the West Coast. However, as mining became more competitive and gold became harder to find, a growing discontent toward Chinese immigrants came to fruition. Furthermore, the racism towards Chinese immigrants heightened as the post-Civil War economy declined in the 1870s. California politicians began to blame the Chinese for the economic depression and the public view of the Chinese immigrants diminished. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the US. This exclusion shows another example of how America’s response to a nation-wide issue, such as a pandemic or a depression, was blamed on an entire race instead of American politicians taking responsibility.   

During World War II, there was a growing resentment towards Japanese Americans because of Japan’s actions during the war. Many feared their fellow Americans and accused them of being spies for Japan. Because of this, President Roosevelt placed hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into internment camps. He signed Executive Order 9066, which created military zones for anyone with 1/16 or more Japanese lineage. While many excused this act of segregation as a safety precaution to prevent Japanese spies from entering the country, this was only an act of racism that was fueled by fear.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Executive Order 9066 were not the only ways in which America and the US government excluded against Asian people, and I urge everyone to look further into the racist past that Asian people have endured throughout history. The rise in Asian hate crimes today is unacceptable and extremely shameful, and we, as a country, should learn from our past mistakes and take responsibility for our own poor actions, instead of falsely blaming minorities.