“Where Are You From?”: Investigating the Psychological Origins of Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

Please donate to https://www.gofundme.com/c/act/stop-aapi-hate if you are financially able.

As I read each anti-Asain hate crime, I can’t help but ask myself “why?”–each one adding to the stack of violence against people with my skin tone. Comprehending why these hate crimes are happening is just as important as taking action. I know I have been able to ground my mental health more by placing my energy on investigating how the anti-Asian hate crimes started rather than fester in my fear 24/7. In my quest to better fathom what’s going on, I stumbled across The American Psychological Association (APA). APA explains what leads to hate crimes as such:

“Hate crimes are an extreme form of prejudice, made more likely in the context of social and political change. Public and political discourse may devalue members of unfamiliar groups, and offenders may feel that their livelihood or way of life is threatened by demographic changes. Offenders may not be motivated by hate, but rather by fear, ignorance or anger. These can lead to dehumanization of unfamiliar groups and to targeted aggression.”

Channeling this definition, I want to expand upon it by applying an Asian American Studies lens to it; I refuse to believe the 150% increase in anti-Asain hate crimes in 2020 can be boiled down to this “I don’t see color” offered by the APA Historical evidence, Asian invisibility and a myraid of stereotypes all play a major role in why these hate crimes have come to be–and persist.

Asian Americans do not share a language and often the ethnic groups within the category have historical beef with one another; this makes it hard to unify over something. Yet the violence aimed at  Asian Americans of all ethnicities can be seen in different times, such as Vincent Chin who was beaten to death in 1982. Before Chin’s death, the United States invoked laws that banned Asians from coming to this country such as The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). Similar anti-Asian policies came in the form of early 20th century anti-miscegenation laws for Filipinos. The Magnuson Act in 1943 “strategically recast Chinese in its promotional materials as ‘law-abiding, peace-loving, courteous people living quietly among us'” instead of the “‘yellow peril’ coolie hordes.”  And one cannot forget the atrocious Japanese incarceration camps, another example of the perpetual foreigner treatment Asians in America go through daily.

First, analyzing the positionality of Asians in America is also crucial to answering who the perpetrators of these hate crimes are. Also, let’s get the elephant out of the URL: anti-Asian hate crimes have been carried out by white perpetrators and BIPOC perpetrators. Looking at Clare Jean Kim’s work, “The Racial Triangulation Of Asian Americans,” could help us grasp why that is. Racial triangulation materializes through two processes which ultimately serve to reinforce white power and privilege. The mainstream valorizes Asians over Blacks, citing Asians’ hard work ethic and material successes and implying deficiencies in the latter; however, it still places whites over Asians in terms of social standing. The iconic chart from her research depicts an X-axis is foreigner vs. insider while the Y-axis is superior vs inferior (see pg. 5). It debunks the typical Black and white conversation around race in America. Summarized, in theory of racial triangulation Kim argues that, Asian-Americans “have been racialized relative to and through interaction with whites and blacks. As such, the respective racialization trajectories of these groups are profoundly interrelated.” Kim states that “since the filed of racial postions consistess of a plane defined by at least two axes–superior/inferior and insider/foreigner–it emphasizes both that groups become racialized in comparison with one another and that they are different racialized.”

Second, the model minority myth paints Asains as the “good minority” who behaves and this can be construed that Asians in American are easy targets to violence. Coined in 1966 by journalist William Petersen, the term made its debut in The New York Times Magazine. It is the term that encapsulates that Asians inherently have achieved high-socioeconomic status and excel academically. By “earning” the so-called American Dream, tAsians in America became the scapegoats to condemn other BIPOC folk—the racial wedge. From the late 20th century until now, Asians have been labeled as smart, meek, subservient, hardworking and are also usually represented by East Asians, leaving entire communities like Desi Americans and Pacific Islanders. Additionally, U.S media has historically hypersexuaized Asian women while Asian men are rendered asexual. Based on this stereotypical about Asian American,  I can see how a perpetrator of anti-Asian hate crimes could target Asians under the stereotypical belief an Asian would not fight back. Paired with the idea that Asians are apolitical, the model minority myth can explain why Asians are being targeted too. If the expectation is that Asian women are obedient and Asian men are docile, then a racist, uninformed perpetrator would assume that retaliation is unlikely and thus enact violence.

Moreover, cultural values and interethnic conflict I have a hard time addressing also complicate the issue of anti-Asian hate. A recent episode of Red Table Talk titled “Confronting the Divide Between Black and Asian Americans” displayed how generationally, Black and Asian people in America have a tense relationship full of trauma and miscommunication. From my own experience, I have found race issues are hard to discuss because there is no shared history across all Asian Americans or shared language. Yet despite this, Asians in America are still shoved under the monolithic term “Asian American” disregarding the diverse backgrounds of the Asian diaspora.  Additionally, there are articles and vocalized thoughts expressing  many perpetrators of anti-Asain hate crimes are actually other BIPOC people. Clearly there are many unresolved opinions about how BIPOC folk feel about Asians, the so-called “good ones”. There is so much to unpack that deserves an article of its own.

Another complicating factor is that some say numerous anti-Asian hate crimes go unreported. In Japan, a famous proverb goes 出る釘は打たれる” or, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Likewise, it isn’t uncommon for other Asian ethnicities to move through the world with this ideology too. Coming from a collective culture that centers family, many Asians steer clear of political conflict–keep my head down, get the work done, don’t make waves.

Finally, my “honorable mention” hypothesis for where these hate crimes originate boils down to stands the wellness craze known as manifestation. The art of manifestation can be powerful psychologically and literally: it’s why people do vision boards, pray or cross their fingers tightly. To put succinctly, it begins with believing and saying something aloud (i.e. a racial slur) prolifically and unchallenged; then this can lead to a physical manifestation (ex. “kung-flu”). For example, Asian jokes have long had a free pass; blasé attitudes towards “funny” memes on places like 4chan perpetuate racist ideology too . And now we have arrived to the point where the news headlines continue to be grotesque anti-Asain hate again and again; however this time the screams are too loud (i.e. videos circulating) for America to turn away from. 

CONCLUSION

Whether it’s a manifestation of preexisting racist and xenophobic beliefs, internalized racism or the amorphous postionality of Asians in America—or a all three—the root of the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes lately need to stop. I do not believe people are born violent; it’s high time we collectively examine socialization’s inevitable role in our epistemology. Moving forward, we react to that socialization. At the time of this articles inception, Lauren Espejo (the founder of YLWRNGR) and I had just learned 8 people were shot to death by suspect Robert Aaron Lang in Atlanta. Six of the eight victims were (for a while) nameless Asian women. Anti-Asain killings don’t happen just because a white man is having “a bad day.”  Asians in America and Asian Americans are not “going back to where they came” from just yet.

For more resources, please go to Stop AAPI Hate who have been doing so much pro-bono work to help Asain American; one statistic from their research shows that 68% of the hate incidents were directed at Asian women; perpetrators of anti-Asian violence target elderly Asians. Juxtaposed to Asian cultures, this targeting choice is extra appalling because elderly are revered in Asian communities. Elders, women and 1 in 4 young adults in the Asian American Pacific Islander are currently the most likely to be attacked. 

Moving forward, please also utilize and share mental health resources like the Crisis Text Line and Heartmob. Many Go Fund Me fundraisers have been created in the name of lost lives. Donate to organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta and Center for Pacific Asian Community Services so they can help with healing in the Atlanta Asian American community.

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