In the aftermath of the Atlanta spa parlor shooting, my social media was filled with posts of “Stop Asian Hate” that sought to bring awareness to the alleged racism against Asians that has supposedly been rising since the beginning of this pandemic. It might sound counterintuitive that I, as a 100% Asian who was born and grew up in China, am skeptical of this, but I am. Since I am not a social science major, nor a big fan of data, I am going to start with my personal experience.
When I came to America for the first time in middle school, I could not speak fluent English. When I first walked into that school, I was shocked to see how nice and supportive everyone was to me. That kind of smile everyone had on their face was something that I had barely experienced back in China. Therefore, racism was absolutely NOT something that I would have ever considered experiencing. I got along very well with many friends (mostly white, surprisingly) and I still keep in touch with some of them today.
The high school I went to was a small private school, with the vast majority being white. I did not get along with many white students there, to be honest, and I felt excluded most of the time. Some people at this point are going to put the blame for this on racism: “my race and culture are underrepresented! I am excluded because of white supremacy!” Although I didn’t care much about politics back then, believe it or not, I actually did blame racism for my trials, and even conservatism in general! The school was in a pretty conservative town, but I digress. Eventually, I came to decide that, no, I do not believe that all those white students are racists and I am not going to blame racism here; I am going to look one step further. Maybe it is because the school was K-12 and the students had all known each other for a long time, and thus were not welcoming to new students in general. With that in mind, I felt much more optimistic, and I did not feel underrepresented anymore. By the time I graduated, I had made many more friends, many of which, ironically, were either Chinese or black conservatives.
So, when you think you are seeing “injustice” like I thought I was in high school, try looking one step further.
I have, however, experienced true racism in America, but only once. Someone in my school’s sports team group chat said I looked “like a monkey with slits in his eyes.” I say this to make the point that, when you face true racism, you will instantly know it.
But how do you know when to blame racism in other circumstances? In 2017, I remember hearing news that a United Airlines passenger, who happened to be Asian, was violently dragged out of an overbooked plane. All the media, whether Chinese or American, put a lot of effort into reporting this and called this incident horrendously racist. My first thought was that “huh, it was terrible indeed, and the airline is to blame absolutely.” But, is it racist though? Did the airline decide to kick out that passenger solely because of his race? And keep in mind that according to the video clip, many passengers yelled in defense of the Asian man as well, and some even walked out of the plane following the violence. If America really is a racist country, then no passenger would do that.
Another case is the well-known death of George Floyd. My first reaction was, again, “this is a horrible incident, Floyd did not deserve to die, and the officer deserves the blame.” But again, is it racist though? Why did it gain so much attention, even though a white police officer killing a black man occurs very rarely? I then watched the leaked bodycam clip; though I would not defend the officer for the kneeling, I did not see an OUNCE of racism during the encounter and arrest. But nevertheless, it was the first time that I saw so many pro-social justice and Black Lives Matter Instagram posts in my feed, and it caused me much anxiety, to be honest. I then expressed my concern about the increasing violence nationwide following the protests, and then some conservative people reached out to me in support of what I posted. Well, that was a final push to the right for me, believe it or not.
And hey, my fellow liberals, do not call me a racist for this. Some of my best friends are black, one of which contributes to this paper, and we discuss such social issues all the time. I then learned that some of the biggest problems that are perpetuating in inner-city black neighborhoods are either domestic violence, the absence of fathers as a consequence of welfare policies, kids underperforming in schools, drugs, crime, and more. I genuinely wish for a better situation for African Americans. These are more urgent issues that need to be addressed; although the media chooses to blame white supremacy, which I agree, is evil and should be denounced.
And now let’s move on to Asians. Many Asian people are either first or second-generation immigrants, and they live some of the best lives economically here in America. They are successful, with their children largely overperforming white kids in schools. Thus, I do not believe that the argument for systemic racism will survive if Asians keep making such great achievements here. However, there are indeed problems that Asian Americans are facing that the media tends to ignore. Affirmative Action in the college application process nationwide aims at promoting racial diversity on campuses, while increasing the threshold for Asian students to get accepted. Other issues include culture shock and language barriers, which are common issues immigrants from all countries face; and unfortunately, illegal Asian immigration (from China and South Asia mainly) may further lead to increased unemployment among legal Asian immigrants. Should we bring up more awareness on those issues as well?
Now, here is probably what you actually wished to find when you first saw the title of this article. Yes, statistics show that crimes against Asians rose dramatically since the outbreak of this pandemic, and the media blames President Trump for calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung-Flu,” which certainly seems plausible at first glance, and I understand why many Chinese and Asian Americans are deeply offended. But, again, I HAVE to ask: is it truly racist? Did what Trump say actually cause an increase in violence against Asians?
Keep in mind that as a consequence of lockdowns, the unemployment rate in the US rose from 3.5% to a high of 14.8% just within two months, and as a result, crime increased everywhere, not just on Asians. It is true that many historic Chinatowns in cities on the east and west coast suffered much from crime, but geography may explain this because Chinatowns are always located in the inner-city and are prone to crime. And if we are to analyze the effect of Trump’s choice of words, let’s look at the 2020 election results of San Francisco and New York County, with the former 85% and the latter 87% voting for Biden. Almost all the crimes on Asians take place in strong Democratic areas, the areas where awareness on racial justice is typically propagated the most, and where Trump’s words are considered to be Hitlerian. Yet, we do not hear much news about Asians getting attacked in Republican areas.
Let’s talk about the recent Atlanta shooting briefly, and you all probably already know where I stand. Again, I do not defend such an egregious crime, but I have to ask again, is it truly racist? Whether it is racially motivated or not, we have to figure out a practical solution on how to decrease crime and how people can protect themselves better. Some argue more social work and fewer guns, and some argue more guns and more police, but that is another debate that I will not cover here. But, I really do not like how people are pretty much initiating a race war now and trying to make my ethnicity “politically correct”.
Let me tell you another story that many of you perhaps have never heard of, but a result of that incident was a foolish racial conflict. In November 2014, a Chinese American police officer Peter Liang accidentally shot and killed an African American man by the name of Akai Gurley while patrolling one of the apartment buildings in New York City. The African American community was outraged, claiming that this incident proves the inherent racism and brutality of policing in America. Liang was charged with second degree manslaughter. Consequently, the Chinese Americans in New York City came out in support of the officer, saying that if he was white he would have been acquitted, and that he was sentenced just for being Asian, which implies that our justice system is systemically racist. The result was protests from both the Chinese and African Americans and led to conflicts against each other. So, what does this story tell us? It is definitely a tragedy, but are such debates and race wars beneficial?
In conclusion, I just want to say this. I do not believe that my ethnicity is being systematically discriminated against in this country, and there is just no point in crying “racist” every single time we see injustice happen. Nevertheless, the only discrimination that I feel is more common against me is not that of race, but rather of political views. Currently, this is the biggest issue of discrimination that we are seeing in America and each one of us has to address it.