Opinion by President Naomi Rainey-Pierson and Branch intern Sylvia Lee
Where is the “model minority” during the pandemic? Following the end of World War II, Asian Americans have been used to represent a so-called “model minority.” The term has been used to construct the Asian-American experience as a narrative that argues if a person is industrious, rule-abiding, and hardworking, they can become successful, and more importantly, they can overcome discrimination and racist treatment. However, this pandemic has shown that the concept of a model minority is nothing more than a wedge intended to invalidate the racism experienced by other ethnic minority groups. Asian identifying people have only been treated as a model minority when it is politically convenient or useful. For example, the presence of Chinese workers was useful during the construction of the transcontinental railroad; however, as soon as the railroad was finished, they were no longer seen as useful, and as a result, Chinese workers were subjected to mass lynchings and extreme discrimination and maltreatment. Shortly after, racial restrictions on immigration were imposed with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and later upheld by the Geary Act of 1892. It wasn’t until World War II that the U.S. deemed the Chinese as being useful once more, seeking allyship with China in the midst of the war against Japan, and in 1943, the Magnuson Act was signed, allowing 105 Chinese immigrants into the U.S. per year. America had no qualms discriminating against Asians when their presence did not serve them in a way that was convenient. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing how this mentality is revealing an extreme anti-Asian sentiment.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Asian-American community has been used as a scapegoat, as seen in rhetoric such as the “Chinese virus.” From March 2020 until February 2021, the Stop AAPI Hate group has recorded 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This is a 149% increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans from 2019 to 2020. Furthermore, 70% of the aforementioned 3,800 were against Asian women with women reporting 2.3 times as many hate incidents as compared to men, including verbal harassment, shunning, and physical assault. Despite the blatant attacks against the Asian American Pacific Islander community, some law-enforcing institutions fail to address these incidents as hate crimes, arguing that in many cases they cannot discern whether or not a crime was racially motivated. Beyond condemning hate incidents, xenophobic rhetoric, and harassment against the Asian American community, we need more education, expanded civil rights protections, and more restorative justice models. We must use all measures necessary to ensure that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are safe during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. As individuals and united- we can stop Asian and Pacific Islander hatred.