Who Should Take Offense?: Insight into the complexities of anti-Asian racism in America.

There has been a recent spike in the news regarding anti-Asian racism, primarily as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. While tensions have surely been heightened during the last year, racism against Asians in America has existed for much of our nation’s history. And yet, what we see now is a spike in awareness that ought to make us all seriously consider how and why racism exists in America against the Asian community. I hesitate to use the phrase, “Asian community”, because it potentially generalizes an entire continent to fit a single narrative. While the topic of anti-Asian racism is incredibly important, it is often accompanied by a host of complex biases and resonates monolithically with many who encounter the phrases “Asian racism” or “Asian-American”.

Like other racial issues, the problems with anti-Asian racism are multi-dimensional. The first step in understanding the racism that exists for the Asian community in the United States is to acknowledge who is included in this overgeneralized term.

The term “Asian” instinctually denotes an image of east Asian for many people. Korea, Japan, and China are the main countries people think about when they encounter the word; south, central, west, and southeast Asians are rarely taken into consideration. Because of this, the recent anti-Asian racism to which people have been referring has centered around COVID related hate crimes, as phrases like “Kung-Flu” and “the Chinese virus” circulate the media. There have been almost 3,000 documented reports of coronavirus-related attacks since March of 2020. When these stories are brought to our attention, they are the stories that paint the narrative of anti-Asian racism.

While this is true to an extent, there seems to be a larger problem that many activists are unwilling to address. The claim is that we should all be more attuned to the anti-Asian racism that exists in our nation. However, as a society we have refused to acknowledge that anti-Asian racism does not just occur for those whose resemblance is shared with east Asians. While the spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans has surely risen as a result of the coronavirus, so has our society’s inability to broaden its conception of the Asian American experience.

I have been asked on multiple occasions if I was offended by former President Trump’s use of the phrase “the Chinese virus”. While the phrase itself is offensive, as a South Korean, I have no reason to take any personal offense. Unfortunately, this kind of reasoning is often ill-received, and many are shocked and disappointed by my response. One of my best friends is Indian, and no one has ever asked her if she was offended by the phrase. Here we see the rift in our society’s understanding of anti-Asian racism. I should take offense because I look Chinese, and when I don’t take offense, I am accused of internalizing racism. This is clearly a problem.

We must deconstruct our preconceived notions of what anti-Asian racism is before we can begin to address the injustices that occur as its result. Singularly categorizing an entire continent into a universal experience is a sure way to defend the supremacy of the majority by feigning inclusivity and recognition of whatever classification of “minority” suits the situation at hand. While addressing the recent spike in anti-Asian racism as a result of the coronavirus is important, it is equally important to resist condensing the Asian or Asian American community to just Chinese or even east Asian. To use blanket terms like “Asian” or “Asian American” without
considering the entirety of the Asian community is to perpetuate an inaccurate conception of what it actually means to be Asian.

Sources: PBS