Local scholars, educators saddened but not surprised by anti-Asian hate data showing national spike

Angie Chung, sociology professor at the state University at Albany (inset) The University at Albany (background)
Angie Chung, sociology professor at the state University at Albany (inset) The University at Albany (background)

On Tuesday, Stop AAPI Hate — a coalition that tracks reports of racism against Asian Americans — released statistics that, to some, could be surprising. From March 19 last year, when lockdown began, through the end of February, the coalition received 3,795 firsthand complaints of anti-Asian hate incidents. And roughly 503 of those complaints were reported from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28 of this year. These statistics also come during a time where instances that have been charged as hate crimes, too, have increased on a national level. 

“Hate incidents are not abating. We cannot let anti-Asian American hate be a legacy of COVID-19 or the last presidential administration, but that’s exactly what will happen unless we demand concrete action,” Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, said in a statement.

But this isn’t surprising to Angie Chung, a sociology professor at the state University of New York at Albany, who has interviewed roughly 70 UAlbany students about their experiences with racism and attacks since the Spring. Her research project, The Impact of COVID-19 on Racial Belonging and Well-Being Among Asian/American Students in New York State, has given her the opportunity to hear Asian students’ first-hand accounts, from physical attacks in supermarkets to being referred to as “virus carriers” by their peers. 

Chung said that those who discriminate against Asian people usually aim to attack the most vulnerable like the elderly, but students can also be targeted. She fears that when campus opens on a larger scale, encounters could be worse. 

“Those [Stop AAPI Hate] statistics are for people who have reported it,” Chung said. “A lot of folks, for whatever reason, they’re ashamed or they’re afraid. It doesn’t surprise me, my guess is it’s actually lower than what people experience, like some people also don’t realize what they experienced, or it’s not very clear, if it’s a hate crime.”

The new statistics were released the same day that a white terrorist, Robert Aaron Long, was arrested in Atlanta and confessed to shooting and killing eight people — six of whom were Asian women — at three different spas in the area. Law enforcement officials said that Long acted out on the employees “for providing an outlet for his addiction to sex.” Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office added that the shootings were “not racially motivated.” But many online are saying that just because the shooter says it wasn’t a racially motivated crime doesn’t mean he’s being truthful.

“It certainly increases the severity of his crime [to call it hate-motivated],” Chung said. “But, you know, I think that should be taken into account when people start investigating this.”

The statistics from Stop AAPI Hate are also not surprising to Union College professor Bunkong Tuon, who teaches a course on Asian American history, literature and film. He said he was saddened and angered to hear about the numbers, adding that violence against Asians is often a scapegoat whenever there’s a national, cultural or even a personal crisis. 

Currently, the way politicians like former President Donald Trump and other lawmakers have handled the pandemic by referring to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese virus” in conjunction with its origins, Tuon said, is only worsening anti-Asian hate. Tuon even wrote about it for Cultural Weekly.

“It’s not new,” Tuon said. “But the fear has to do with not wanting white America to become something different. You can talk about that in terms of what happened in 9/11, what happened in World War II with the incarceration of Japanese Americans. In terms of calling the virus the ‘Wuhan virus,’ politicians are flaming the anti-Asian sentiments and violence.” 

In his history class, Tuon says he discusses anti-Asian hate and some of its origins, as well as where some may pick it up either consciously or unconsciously.

“We talk about the history of this,” Tuon said. “We also talk about the media representations, and its effects on not only Asians, but in Hollywood, and also bring in my own experience. I let them know that I am of a certain age, and I am a professor, but I’m not immune. I’m not immune to violence against me, because of the color of my skin, because of my race, because what I look like, because of my name… once I leave campus, people don’t see me as a professor. People see me as an Asian person, not an Asian American, but an Asian person. So it’s exhausting but not surprising.”

Tuan, who said he has felt unwelcomed many times outside of the city of Schenectady in different suburbs, has dealt with such feelings even when taking his daughter to playgrounds or traveled to nearby Rexford. He said that the best thing locals can do to raise awareness is to start forums, write about their experiences and do everything they can to prevent the normalization of anti-Asian violence. 

He recommended that local residents visit anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co to learn more about resources available to those dealing with discrimination and to find ways to help the cause. 

Chung added that acknowledgement is a good first step.

“I think it’s also very true throughout history that racial violence against Asians and attacks have often been invisible, that people don’t acknowledge that it exists,” Chung said. “Just because of whatever narrative they have about Asians. So I think that we have a lot of tasks ahead of us in terms of how to address this and make it visible to the public.”

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