By Quentin Choy
March 18, 2021
Eight women were shot dead at massage parlors in Georgia by a man who was dealing with sexual frustration. Six of those women were Asian and many have called the shooting a hate crime against the Asian-American Pacific Islander community (AAPI).
The killings of these women were the logical conclusion of a year of violence, assault, and harassment toward Asian-Americans being told to go back to their country as well as the use of the term “China Virus” by the former president. Such anti-Asian sentiments were taken up by many across the country which was seen in the physical assault of Asian-American elders in various cities as well as vandalism on Asian-owned businesses like in Texas.
Now is the time to rally in support of our AAPI brothers and sisters, a community which I am a proud member of. However, an organized movement would be difficult for a variety of reasons.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Asian American Movement emerged which sought to imitate the success of the Civil Rights Movement for African-Africans. Ideas such as Pan-Asianism arose, and the movement was popular in large cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Honolulu.
Historical events such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the bombings of Cambodia fueled the desire for such a movement. The concept of “Yellow Power” also arose, but it was difficult to prolong since Asian-Americans identified much more with their national identities rather than just being Asian.
Xenophobic attacks have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While not all of it is the fault of the former president, he has been a significant contributing factor in his constant use of the term “China Virus,” directly linking Asian-Americans to the suffering that many Americans are still facing.
Comparison to Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter Movement started in 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who murdered 17-year old Trayvon Martin in Florida. In the years that followed, the movement grew following police brutality. Examples such as Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and others inspired the movement to continue forward. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 re-established the movement as a powerful political force.
While the movement was decentralized in that it had no central leader, the movement was present in cities all across America, and it played a key role in the 2020 election. The viral video that spread showing the murder of George Floyd who wasn’t resisting in broad daylight was a turning point for Black and white Americans in terms of their understanding of police brutality. With such a clear image of evil seen in Floyd’s killing present in peoples’ minds, there was a clear idea in peoples’ minds as to what the movement was protesting.
This same idea would be difficult to implement for an Asian-American Movement because there just wasn’t the same amount of clarity that people have in terms of the violence against Asian-Americans. While the shooting that happened in Georgia was awful, many Americans have unfortunately become desensitized to news of mass shootings. The violent acts against Asian-Americans were also sporadic and widespread, unlike the systematic, institutional racism which Black Lives Matter advocated against. The violence toward Asian-Americans is also committed by random citizens rather than the police, so it is difficult to direct protests and power against the citizenry, unlike protests against the police – a clear, visible institution.
Other Causes of DIfficulty
For the most part, African-Americans have a unified culture compared to Asian-Americans, and this has much to do with their history. After Africans were brought to North America and the Caribbean as slaves, many lost their culture and national African identities, especially as they assimilated into American culture and had generations of offspring growing up in that same culture. Today, many African-Americans cannot trace their lineage back specifically to an African country, as the legacy of slavery has severed their genealogical ties to the African continent. Slavery’s legacy and the legacy of Jim Crow serve as unifying factors in the African-American community.
For Asian-Americans, they tend to identify more with their Asian countries than simply with “Asian-American.” Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Filipinos can still easily trace back their ancestry to those countries, and many immigrants from those countries immigrated recently and still practice their culture and have relatives back in their respective countries. Many of these communities in the United States have Chinatowns or Koreatowns, showing that these communities still practice cultures from their home countries. The varying histories and varying races among the Asian-American community could make it far more difficult a movement to form.
While the politics of the Asian-American community are typically Democratic, the AAPI community is not as unified in its voting trends as African-Americans are. According to the National Asian American Survey, Americans of Hmong, Indian, and Korean descent are likely to identify as Democrats while Filipino and Vietnamese Americans were likelier to be Republicans. Such splits could discourage a formation of a large, all-encompassing Asian-American movement, and if one were to form, the direction and policies of the movement would be heavily debated over.
Unfortunately, I believe that corporations and status quo politicians will “hijack” the movement in the way that the Black Lives Matter protest and Pride Month are profited from by large corporations. Corporations can easily place a rainbow or “#BlackLivesMatter” on something without actually doing anything that could economically or politically help the movement and the people in it. I think that as the movement struggles to form from the grassroots level, corporations will swoop in and write “Stop Asian Hate” on things or say it in commercials to encourage consumers to buy products from them while not doing anything to create real change and progress. Those who buy or post similar messages may be discouraged to actually bring about political or economic change for Asian-Americans as well, feeling like they have done something through a form of “armchair activism,” which could be a factor in the premature death of any type of Asian-American Movement coming to fruition.
Image Courtesy of PBS.