Confronting the invisibility of anti-Asian racism

Brookings - Last week, a gunman opened fire in a Korean-owned hair salon in the Koreatown section of Dallas, Texas and shot three Korean women who suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The police are now investigating this as a hate crime that may be linked to two other shootings of Asian-owned businesses in the area. Anti-Asian violence and racism have surged since the Atlanta massacre last year that left eight dead—six of whom were Asian American women—but many Americans still fail to notice.

According to a national survey by AAPI Data and Momentive, anti-Asian hate crimes have increased since the start of the pandemic: 1 in 6 Asian American adults reported experiencing a hate crime in 2021, up from 1 in 8 in 2020. In the first three months of 2022, the figure has already reached 1 in 12. This trend may continue given the rise in anti-Asian racism.

The 2022 STAATUS Index shows that 1 in 5 Americans believe that Asian Americans are at least partly responsible for COVID-19 compared to 1 in 10 last year (see Figure 1). Americans are also now more likely to believe that referring to the coronavirus as “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” is appropriate, and 1 in 3 believe that Asian Americans are more loyal to their country of origin than to the U.S., up from 1 in 5 in 2021.

In the past year alone, 1 in 10 Asian Americans have been coughed on or spit on, and nearly 1 in 3 have been told to “go back to your country.” In the previous administration, it was easy to blame Trump, but we are in a new administration, and racist attacks against Asians have increased. One-third of Americans, however, continue to remain unaware.

The invisibility of anti-Asian racism is a reflection of the invisibility of Asians in the American imagination: 58% of Americans cannot name a single prominent Asian American, and 42% cannot think of a historical experience or policy related to Asian Americans.

The invisibility is also glaring in funding priorities. Between 1992 and 2018, the National Institutes of Health invested only 0.17% of its budget on research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Foundations have not fared better: of the $19 billion awarded between 1983 and 1990, 0.18% was awarded to AAPI organizations, increasing to 0.20% by 2018. So for every $100 awarded by foundations, 20 cents was designated for AAPI communities.

Asian Americans also remain invisible in our school curricula: last year, Illinois became the first state to require that Asian American history be taught in public schools, and this year, New Jersey became the second. So should we really be surprised that 42% of Americans cannot name a single Asian American historical experience?

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