Stop the Silence
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Eight people, including six Asian American women, were ruthlessly murdered at three salons in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16. The victims were identified as Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, and Paul Andre Michels. The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, who was seen frequenting the salons, has now been charged with four counts of murder and one count of assault.
The deaths of these innocent people have sparked nationwide outrage, with many believing that the attack was racially motivated. Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, hate crimes against the Asian community have spiked. Stop AAPI Hate, an organization founded in 2020 in response to increased anti-Asian sentiment since the pandemic began, reports that at least 3,800 anti-Asian attacks have occurred during the pandemic. Asian American hate is real, and it is destroying thousands of lives every day while people continue to make excuses.
There are countless instances of violent attacks on Asian Americans that have happened in the past year alone. Elderly Asian Americans in particular are becoming increasingly targeted. In San Francisco, California, Xiao Zhen Xie, a 75-year-old Asian woman, was brutally attacked in broad daylight on March 17 by a male named Steven Jenkins, who hit her in the face and caused a swollen, bloody eye. Xie fought back with a wooden stick she found near her and injured Jenkins, who was then handcuffed to a stretcher and taken to an ambulance. Meanwhile, the victim frantically begged passersby to help her, repeatedly exclaiming in Chinese, “You bum, why did you hit me? This bum, he hit me.”
A similar attack took place in Oakland, California, where a 91-year-old man was brutally shoved to the ground by a young black man in a hoodie. In a different incident, a Chinese woman was attacked in the midst of a crowded city sidewalk outside of a bakery. The assaulter came out of a store, carrying a large box, threw it straight at her face, and shoved her to the ground. Despite this attack, few people stopped to help her or attempted to catch the man who hurt her.
These examples do not even scratch the surface of the injustices toward the Asian American community in our nation and the innocent victims who have been hurt since the pandemic began. Even then, it would be incorrect to say that the pandemic “caused” this wave of racism that has plagued our country.
Many influential politicians have publicly degraded entire communities in the past few years. Former President Donald Trump is a large propagator of several racist ideas who used his position to spread hateful rhetoric toward those communities. He pandered to the racist mindsets of many Republicans instead of spreading the truth, which was made clear with the kind of language Trump used toward the Asian American community. He has called COVID-19 racist nicknames, such as “kung-flu” and “the Chinese virus.” When we allow significant figures to spread this rhetoric, it encourages others to feel and act the same exact way.
Many attacks against Asian Americans are verbal and are equally damaging and telling. During an investigation, several people found Captain Jay Baker, a Georgia sheriff who spoke at a news conference about Long, promoting shirts that said “COVID-19: Imported Virus from Chy-na.” He no doubt took inspiration from the countless accusations that Asian Americans are deliberately “importing” the deadly virus into the US.
Language from powerful government officials toward the Asian American community also tends to be racist and dismissive, which is a significant problem when we try to open up important conversations about race relations. A recent example is when GOP Representative Chip Roy spoke in a House Judiciary Committee meeting on the rise of violence against Asian Americans. While he seemed to side with the Asian community, he said, “There’s an old saying in Texas about ‘find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.’ You know, we take justice very seriously, and we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That’s what we believe.” This remark was insensitive and disrespectful to say during the important meeting. Rhetoric like this instance diminishes the severity of Asian American discrimination; it is not appropriate to talk about lynching people in a joking way. Representative Grace Meng of New York called him out for it, claiming that his language was dangerous and will likely put “a bullseye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids.” It is possible that people will take Roy’s statements far too seriously and cause increased violence either in the name of justice or hatred.
Not only does behavior like this example encourage hatred towards minorities, but it also allows the perpetrators to get away with their crimes by diminishing the severity of hate crimes. When George Floyd was murdered, countless social media users immediately came to the police officers’ defense, saying that he was previously resisting arrest but the camera did not catch it or that the policemen were almost in the right for choking him because Floyd had a criminal record. This practice of rationalizing the wrongdoer’s actions is happening with Long right now. Those who knew Long on a personal level, and even Long himself, claim that he has a sex addiction so serious that it could be the sole motivator for his murder in the salons. He told the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office that he viewed the spas as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” However, these are just excuses for racism against Asian Americans. We cannot use sex addictions to justify the deaths of Asian Americans because doing so downplays the clear racism coming from citizens and politicians alike.
Additionally, Baker’s claim that “yesterday was a really bad day for [Long], and this is what he did” downplays not only the severity of Long’s actions but also the deaths of eight innocent people. Baker’s insensitive words dismiss the sadness that the Asian American community is feeling right now. We must understand that similar language coming from government officials is the problem. When we diminish the deaths of an entire community in this manner, we also show that we do not care.
But we have to; we need to care. We must stop making excuses for racist behavior. I am tired of seeing politicians and government officials excuse assaults against Asian Americans. We can no longer ignore these warning signs as we have done since the start of the pandemic. We must continue to raise awareness about racism against Asian Americans through mediums such as social media and condemn those who openly display racist behavior. Another way is to donate to trustworthy organizations, such as Stop AAPI Hate, or victim memorial funds to help directly.
Do not ignore current Asian American racism, and do not make excuses for it. Do not allow normal citizens or high-ranking government officials to dismiss the large problem at hand. Lastly, make sure to help the Asian American community in whichever way you can: financially, publicly, or emotionally.