As COVID-19 continues to spread in the United States, anti-Asian racism has been spreading with it. This wave of racism against Asians and Asian Americans has only been escalating. Stop AAPI Hate, an online form for Asian Americans to report incidents of racism, has received over 650 reports in the last week — and that's only what people have chosen to report on one site. Meanwhile, Rep. Judy Chu stated that reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans are now averaging at about 100 per day.
This new frequency of racism and violence against Asian Americans is incredibly concerning, and Asian Americans must fully face the reality of their position in the United States.
We're struggling with an extreme increase in anti-Asian racism now, but not too long ago, we were still the "model minority." The model minority myth has been one of the most prominent issues faced by Asian Americans for the past few years. Asian Americans have been put on a pedestal above other racial minorities, on account of factors such as financial stability and education. As a whole, Asian Americans were viewed as almost "superior" to other minorities and somehow able to overcome their status as a minority to also become more successful.
The model minority stereotype is false and there have been efforts to debunk it, but it has nevertheless had the effect of sweeping any outward racism towards Asian Americans under the rug and giving the general public the impression that Asian Americans aren't really a minority or a marginalized group. Above all, the model minority myth is a tool: it can be used against other minorities by comparing them to the Asian American community.
While the model minority myth does have negative impacts on Asian Americans, we can't deny that it has also made more outward and obvious racism against Asian Americans less visible. As a result, much of the Asian American is less outspoken or "loud" about racial issues, and many Asian Americans have internalized the model minority myth and have a part in perpetuating it themselves. This can no longer be our reality. We're now seeing how our position and the view of Asian Americans has changed in an instant, simply because a virus started in China — not to mention how our own government might be exacerbating the situation.
Let's think about how we were just celebrating an increase in Asian visibility in pop culture ("Parasite's" Oscar win was just being lauded as a huge step for Asian representation) and looking forward to an upward trend in Asian-American representation. Now, we're experiencing fear, discrimination, and violence reminiscent of the "yellow peril" decades ago. The position of Asian Americans is not at all stagnant nor is it guaranteed to improve consistently.
All of this is to say that Asian Americans can't afford to be "quiet" or apolitical anymore. We can't distance ourselves from politics or issues of race in the United States — we were never truly untouched by them at all. Asian Americans have shown a low voter turnout in the past, but that can't be the case now. For Asian Americans who have gotten comfortable with being the "model minority," the sudden shift to this new wave of anti-Asian racism needs to be a wake-up call.
We have to ask: is this racism really anything new, or did it exist already?
Did the virus create these anti-Asian sentiments, or did it only draw them out?
The reality we need to confront is that even as the "model minority," Asian Americans are far from being treated as equals, and the way we are seen and treated can change at any time for any reason. Now is a time where we need to reject the model minority myth and realize that our lives are inseparable from politics and racial injustice and inequality.
We can't allow ourselves to revert back to the model minority.
We need to make sure our goal is not just to fight this singular issue of anti-Asian racism but also to continue speaking out against racism and discrimination long after this COVID-19 situation has passed (if it even passes anytime soon).
Most importantly, we have to continue to speak out not just on behalf of our own community but in solidarity with other minorities as well. Complacency is no longer an option.