Three Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, scholars discussed the history and current rise in anti-Asian violence during a virtual Berkeley Conversations and Matrix on Point event Thursday.
Titled “The long history and present surge of anti-Asian violence,” the event was moderated by Raka Ray, UC Berkeley’s dean of the Division of Social Sciences, in light of the recent shooting of AAPI individuals in Atlanta and the surge of racism against the AAPI community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to confront this long history of anti-Asian violence in order to understand how tenacious it has been, it continues to be and to figure out what each and every one of us can do to prevent and mitigate hate and harm,” said Catherine Choy, a campus ethnic studies professor, at the event.
Choy said the anti-Asian violence that has occurred throughout the pandemic repeats American history, noting the murders and beatings of Japanese immigrants who Americans assumed carried the bubonic plague in the 1920s or Filipino immigrants who were considered “incubators of leprosy.”
She added that blaming Asians for the COVID-19 pandemic replicates the aftermath of historical events such as 9/11, which led Americans to inflict violence and place blame on South Asian, Middle Eastern and Muslim communities.
Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, emphasized that this history of anti-Asian violence is what prepared him to mobilize quickly during the pandemic.
Last March, Jeung founded Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, harassment, violence and discrimination against the AAPI community in the United States.
“Asian Americans are now more afraid of other Americans being racist than they are of a pandemic that has killed half a million people,” Jeung said at the event.
The reporting center has tracked more than 7,000 self-reported accounts of anti-Asian acts, with statistics showing that AAPI women are attacked twice as often as AAPI men.
Kimberly Hoang, an associate professor of sociology and director of global studies at the University of Chicago, said this reflects a larger class divide between AAPI men and women in which women are hypersexualized and subject to stereotypes that characterize them as “docile” and “submissive.”
In discussion of the Atlanta shooting, for example, Hoang said these stereotypes were amplified among the AAPI women working in the massage parlor where it occurred.
Hoang emphasized that the country must regard the shooting and other AAPI stories as a part of American history.
“The media portrays these events as, ‘What’s the story of why these women migrated to the United States? Why are they undocumented, or what were circumstances that brought them here?’” Hoang said at the event. “But this is an American story. Anti-Asian violence is an American story.”