• Katrina Kimbril

The Rise of Asian Racism… Again (and 4 Ways Teachers Can Respond)

By Britta Livengood

4 things teachers can do in their clasrooms to combatt racism

On March 16, a white man shot and killed eight individuals in an Atlanta spa, six of whom were Asian. Authorities did not label this as a hate crime, and are claiming that the shooter was just “having a bad day”. It’s baffling to not consider this a racist attack against the Asian community especially given the significant increase in hate crimes committed against Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the last year.

Since last March when COVID-19 swept the nation, Anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by nearly 150%. In the last year, there have been 3,795 reported cases by the AAPI community, 1,700 of those reports coming from California alone. Being spit on, slashed, and many acts of physical violence are just some of the things that the Asian community has been experiencing since the start of the pandemic.

Sam and Maggie Cheng on the street where their  mother was attacked last week in Flushing, Queens.  Andrew Seng for The New York Times
Sam and Maggie Cheng where their mother was attacked last week in Flushing, Queens. Photo: Andrew Seng for The New York Times

Unfortunately for the AAPI community this is nothing new. Discrimination against the Asian community is a problem our country has been experiencing for centuries. We are simply repeating history

Chinese Exclusion Act

In the mid 1870s there was an economic depression in our nation. Many people accused Asians of stealing jobs from working Americans. This led to discrimination and violence against Asians. In 1875, the Page Act was enacted banning Chinese women from immigrating to the United States, which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, banning all immigration of Chinese laborers. This law remains the only law implemented in our country to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating to the United States.

Chinese women detainees at Angel Island in San  Francisco, hoping to immigrate to America. California Historical Society
Chinese detainees at Angel Island in San Francisco. Photo: California Historical Society

1900 Plague in San Francisco

In the early 1900s, Chinese immigrants were blamed for an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the San Francisco area. The plague was centered in San Francisco’s Chinatown, creating huge racial tensions against the Asian community. Chinatown was stereotyped as dirty and diseased. Believing it was necessary to keep themselves safe from the plague, many denied Chinese people standard social rights and privileges. The majority of housing for Chinese immigrants was inadequate, and landlords were unwilling to provide equal and fair housing. An extended quarantine of Chinatown was put in place more by racist ideas of Chinese Americans as carriers of the disease than by actual evidence of the disease’s presence.

World War II

Prior to World War II, many Asian Americans had homes and businesses in the Sacramento area. During and after the war, 3,000 citizens of Sacramento from Japanese decent were forced into internment camps. Many of these individuals were American born United States citizens. Once they were released, many returned to pick up where they left off, but it was extremely difficult to recover their homes and businesses.

With geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China, along with economic hardships many are facing with the recent pandemic, Asian Americans are an easy target for blame. Jokes and phrases like “Kung Flu” or “Chinese Virus” do nothing but amplify racial tensions in this country. The first step to dismantling racism is acknowledging that it has been a part of American history. Only then can work together to move on and stop ourselves from repeating our past.

So what can you do in your classroom?

  1. Educate yourself. Understand what Asian Americans have gone through in our country, and that while hate crimes are on the rise, anti-Asian racism is not new.

  2. Talk about it with your students. Show pictures from the past, and compare them to pictures from our recent pandemic. Don’t just brush past these topics of blatant racism in our history. To you it might just be something that happened years ago, but some of your students may picture their parents or grandparents in these situations as they learn about racism in our past.

  3. Check in with Asian-American families in your school. Whether it be providing support in attending a local event, or just providing a check-in to know you are there if they need you. Let these families know that they are supported inside and outside of school.

  4. Share any resources you can offer to families in need or who have experienced racism. This could include language translation, mental health services, legal services, childcare resources, or food assistance.

Sources: Yam. Kimmy. 2021, March 9. “Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Increased by Nearly 150% in 2020”. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-asian-hate-crimes-increased-nearly-150-2020-mostly-nn1260264

Boudreau, Emily. 2020, November 2. “Combating Anti-Asian Racism”. Useable Knowledge at Harvard Graduate School of Education. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/11/combatting-anti-asian-racism

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