On June 20, 2020, at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States President Donald Trump announced to his supporters that he will resume referring to COVID-19 using anti-Asian, dog whistle language. Though White House staffers have steadfastly claimed that the rhetoric is aimed at China, the group that is suffering the consequences of Trump’s racism is Asian Americans.
Since January 2020, there has been an increase in the number of reports of Asian Americans being targeted, harassed, and assaulted. At the root of many of the incidents is COVID-19 inspired fear and anger. This is not the first time in America’s history that Asian Americans have come under attack. As America entered World War II in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering the mass incarceration of Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps. Less than twenty years later, during America’s Civil Rights Movement, the Japanese-American children who grew up in those concentration camps and achieved financial stability became the “model minorities” that segregationists and their moderate allies used to deny that structural racism exists as an impediment for African Americans. In another twenty years, when America’s automobile industry began to falter due to an economic recession and competition from foreign manufacturers, Japanese-Americans and all Asian Americans were targeted by angry, financially-insecure, White Americans. The 1982 murder of Vincent Chin by two unemployed autoworkers was a touchstone moment for Asian Americans who organized en masse to protest the light sentence that Chin’s killers received.
President Trump, other elected officials, and conspiracy theorists that sow anti-Asian sentiments didn’t invent anti-Asian racism, but they are rehashing and breathing new life into old racist tropes that were and are being used to justify the humiliation and assault of Asian Americans. The continued rise in anti-Asian violence is especially worrisome because as communities across America continue to attempt to reopen, Asian Americans will increasingly come into contact with people who are frustrated, fearful, and have been told who to blame.
CFR stands in support of our Asian American clients, our Asian American staff members, Asian American essential workers, and Asian American communities. Going out in public should not carry the risk of humiliation and bodily harm for anyone. This is what it is to be Asian American today. We must continue to educate, pressure, and censure those who peddle racism for personal and political gain.
CFR stands in solidarity with others against all expressions and forms of racism. That is what patriotism looks like to us. This is the United States of America we hope to celebrate on the 4th.