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Attacks On Asian Americans: Seeing the whole story

Attacks On Asian Americans: Seeing the whole story

It’s painful to watch the video of 91 year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee being shoved to the ground and killed. It hurts to continuously see similar videos of seemingly random violence and hate, surfacing around the country. It hurts enough to stand out in memory, amid one of the most devastating and traumatic years in history.

It’s particularly painful to watch through the lens of a society that literally just experienced a colossal reckoning over racial divides; a society that’s no stranger to seeing minorities attacked, and a variety of acts of mass, random violence. It’s hard to watch as a member of that society, whose past and present is embedded with racism and xenophobia, that’s been reinvigorated by a racist presidential administration, not to mention a global pandemic that revived violence and hatred towards Asian Americans.

Race and racism here is not to be minimized, it’s just not the entire picture

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Many news networks quickly labeled the events as a “rise in hate-crimes against Asian Americans across the country,” and often paired it with a Black face to point to as the culprit. Of all times in February of course, at the intersection of Black History Month and the Lunar New Year. It garnered national and celebrity attention to anti-Asian hate in the country, and motivated calls for Black and Asian solidarity. Though interestingly, there has actually been little evidence to show that these specific attacks as of lately, were racially motivated.

These clips are brief, grainy, horrific snapshots that seem to be easily understood, but often end up leading to a longer story that’s usually an incomplete one.  Many people saw the videos as a story of a vulnerable population being targeted and attacked; an extreme escalation of hatred toward Asian Americans, who have long been vilified, othered, and oppressed. Many Asian Americans saw that video as the last straw and were inspired to fight back against something that has gone on for too long.  While many also, saw this as an opportunity to display their anti-Blackness and again, scapegoat another minority community.

Because of the glaring aspects of race at play it’s easy to fixate on that, though if we can’t also see beyond that, we risk missing the broader reality of the situation.  I think it’s noble to be enraged, feel called to action, crave change and demand results immediately, but it can be dangerous or misleading to react off our immediate, emotional response.

Illustration: Kristina Micotti

Race and racism here is not to be minimized, it’s just not the entire picture. What if we inquire  more into the story additional to their country of origin and the color of their skin? Such as, the reason for the pattern of a rise in robberies and assaults in Chinatowns every Lunar New Year (and why we never hear about it); or about the history of mental illness and long criminal record of a variety of assaults by the man who killed Mr. Ratanapakdee, Antoine Watson; or the impact of extreme financial strain of economic collapse that millions are currently suffering through. 

The story that’s not being told here, is the story of a wealthy country rampant with discrimintation, poverty, racial disparity, class inequities, desperately underserved BIPOC communities, with a culture lacking care, resources and protection, for its most vulnerable members. These factors can’t be removed from the story because they make up the fabric of the society that is the set and setting. We need to take in the context of the story as a whole, to truly understand it.

A video of an officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd is what it took to mobilize the public into finally creating change and awareness about the state of racism in our country. But that video only scratched the surface of a deep history and culture of violence, hate, and racial oppression against Black Americans. The detrimental effect of that history, encompasses and surpasses the reach of police brutality alone.

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If these terrible viral videos are what it takes to finally bring visibility to the AAPI community, to shatter some model minority myths, the support is more than welcome. Because of it, racism and hatred against AAPI are finally just now starting to be focused on, and the response of support and solidarity shown by so many has been heartening.  A group that has for so long been overlooked, is beginning to be acknowledged.  This is a great opportunity to capitalize on, to sow healing and solidarity between all minority groups, but we can’t stop there.

It’s important to remember that Asian Americans aren’t the only victims here, we all are.  We are failing to heal our racial divides, we’re also failing low-income communities, the massive number of people without homes, failing to provide aid for mental health services, for our elderly, vulnerable, marginalized, and oppressed, and failing to build strong community ties.  We must consider all the societal failures and shortcomings that lead to an individual committing a crime in the first place.  These conditions culminate and manifest as the awful videos we see.  

As a nation we’re in a lot of pain, and we’re hurting while we’re trying to heal. We all experienced, and/or are currently going through some form of collective or individual trauma. We’re sensitive to seeing more vulnerable people hurt, sick of witnessing hate and racism, and we’re hungry to denounce those forces when we see them. 

By keeping a community-minded perspective, we can broaden our perspective to accurately see what the problems are, avoid past mistakes, and allow ourselves to respond with truly productive solutions that create a safer and more accepting community for all.