Why the trope of Black-Asian conflict in the face of anti-Asian violence dismisses solidarity

Brookings - A recent survey shows that more than three out of four Asian Americans worry about experiencing hate crimes, harassment, and discrimination because of COVID-19. Among Chinese and Asian Indians, the figures are even higher at 84 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

These findings may be unsurprising in light of shocking video footage of anti-Asian violence that has recently gone viral. Viewers of these videos witnessed perpetrators shoving elderly men and women to the ground, assaulting Asian American men and women in the face, and stabbing an Asian American man  in the back with an 8-inch knife. Asian-owned businesses like New York’s Xi’an Famous Foods, already under financial stress because of the pandemic, are also struggling to keep their employees safe. The spate of unprovoked attacks elicited a rallying cry that something must be done. For Asian Americans, however, this cry is a year overdue.

Since March of last year, there have been over 3,000 self-reported incidents of anti-Asian violence from 47 states and the District of Columbia, ranging from stabbings and beatings, to verbal harassment and bullying, to being spit on and shunned. While being spit on is offensive, in the time of coronavirus, it is also potentially lethal.

Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said they would introduce new anti-hate crime legislation to address a rise in hate incidents directed at Asian Americans. The bill would create a new position at the Department of Justice to facilitate the review of hate crimes and provide oversight of hate crimes related to COVID-19.

The Trope of Black-Asian Conflict

These senseless acts of anti-Asian violence have finally garnered the national attention they deserve, but they have also invoked anti-Black sentiment and reignited the trope of Black-Asian conflict. Because some of the video-taped perpetrators appear to have been Black, some observers immediately reduced anti-Asian violence to Black-Asian conflict. This is not the first time that the trope has been weaponized. Black-Asian conflict—and Black-Korean conflict more specifically—became the popular frame of the LA riots in 1992.

The trope failed to capture the reality of Black-Korean relations three decades ago, and it fails to capture the reality of anti-Asian bias today. A recent study finds that in fact, Christian nationalism is the strongest predictor of xenophobic views of COVID-19, and the effect of Christian nationalism is greater among white respondents, compared to Black respondents. Moreover, Black Americans have also experienced high levels of racial discrimination since the pandemic began. Hence, not only does the frame of two minoritized groups in conflict ignore the role of white national populism, but it also absolves the history and systems of inequality that positioned them there.

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