More often than not it requires a horrendous event, such as the choking to death of George Floyd, or the senseless shooting down of six Asian-American women in Georgia, to expose the dark, racist underbelly of American society, and bring it into the limelight. But hatred, and its manifestation as hate crimes, had been an integral aspect of that society, and violence against Asian-Americans, driven by anti-Asian xenophobia, has become an inbuilt American practice, particularly during times of crisis. The history of anti-immigrant sentiment in the US is indeed long, going as far back as the early days when Chinese labourers were conscripted and brought to the country to work in railway construction. The capitalistic structure, and the feelings of competition it breeds, can often produce racial violence by the white majority against Asian migrants who might be perceived as threats to American jobs. Thus anti-Asian sentiment in the US existed much before the Covid-19 pandemic and former President Donald Trump’s racist remarks about the ‘China virus’, or the ‘kung flu’. However, Trump’s racist jibes did serve to reignite anti-Chinese sentiments and channel popular fear and rage against persons of Mongoloid descent, resulting in tragedies of the type witnessed in Georgia. The Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism has asserted that according to their research, hate crimes against Asian Americans surged by 150% during the Trump era.
Cities across the US have seen attacks against Asian-Americans, particularly older people, according to the latest study by a group documenting anti-Asian hate and discrimination. Protests against these attacks, often participated in by liberal whites, have taken place all over the country, but it would require a systematic transformation, rather than such transient outpourings of challenges, to tackle what has become an endemic societal problem. Fortunately, the new administration appears to be keen to grasp the nettle, and President Joe Biden has already signed a memorandum denouncing the Trump administration’s discriminatory sentiments directed at the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community and pledging to better combat anti-Asian racism. Moderate Republicans too must step up to contain the hate fallout and condemn the actions of their radical supporters in no uncertain terms. But the problem, of course, far transcends political or administrative concerns, despite the reality that prompt arrest of culprits by the police and holding them to account would go a long way to reassure a fearful segment of citizens. In the ultimate analysis it has to be tackled as an integration of communities issue and leaders of each community must not merely condemn the violence, but also reach out to try and bridge the gaps that exist. Educating and enlightening the majority community would perhaps go a long way to mitigate the fallouts of what essentially is a clash of cultures and subdue the fears roused by such a clash.