Anti-Asian violence - GulfToday

Anti-Asian violence

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Ever since the coronavirus pandemic spread from Wuhan in China, anti-Asian feeling has risen dramatically across the US.

It is open season on Asians in the US, a country founded by colonialism and built by racism. The massacre of six Asian women at spas in the Atlanta area of the US state of Georgia was a tragedy waiting to happen. Ever since the coronavirus pandemic spread from Wuhan in China, anti-Asian feeling has risen dramatically across the US, especially in areas where Asian communities have grown in size and economic, social and political importance. Anti-Asian crimes have soared by 150 per cent over the past year.

As Asian women are largely employed in spas, nail salons, ethnic restaurants, corner shops and other small businesses, women feel doubly vulnerable to verbal and violent abuse and attack. While the alleged perpetrator, a white man, Robert Aaron Long, 21, denied he was motivated by racism and claimed he was a victim of “sex addiction,” the women at one location ranged in age from 51 to 74 while those at the other establishment were 63, 49 and 44. These were either elderly or middle-aged women, therefore, were unlikely targets for a man claiming this addiction as the cause of his rampage. He was apprehended by police before he could travel to Florida where he planned further atrocities.

South, Southeast, and East Asian migration to the US began in the 17th century but mass Asian immigration did not take place until the mid-19th century. Restrictive laws reduced Asian immigration from the 1890 through the 1920s. Once these laws were overturned, Asians flowed into the country, making them the second largest immigrant community next to Latin Americans who also face racism and prejudice as well as deportation if they have been unable to obtain residence status or naturalisation.

A second significant case involved 19-year old Black man, Antoine Watson, who was arrested for violently knocking Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, to the ground in San Francisco in January. The Thai immigrant died, a few days after receiving the covid vaccine. Watson’s lawyer claimed he had teenage “mental health” issues. That is often the plea.

The first Africans were brought to Virginia in 1619. They were originally treated as an indentured servants who became free after a certain number of years in service but this practice was transformed by law into fully-fledged slavery during the mid-17th century. Since then US citizens of African descent have faced racism and maltreatment.

It was hoped that the election of Barack Obama as the country’s first bi-racial president — who identifies as Black — would signify an easing of anti-Black racism. However, during his two terms in office (2012-18) racial tensions rose and anti-Black violence became a major issue. During his presidential campaign and single term in office, Donald Trump exploited white antipathies for Blacks and Hispanics and encouraged white supremacists to operate openly.

The Black Lives Matter movement emerged in 2013 following the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin while not committing any crime by neighbourhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman, whose father is of German descent and mother Peruvian. Zimmerman was acquitted and the accusation that the shooting was a hate crime was dismissed. The Trayvon Martin shooting was followed by a series of killings of Black citizens by police with protests spiking after the smothering to death by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin to death of George Floyd in May last year. The French name, “Chauvin,” has entered English as “chauvinist,” meaning excessive nationalism or antipathy towards others.

Middle Eastern migration to the US began in the late 19th century as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing and the economic situation in Greater Syria deteriorating. The majority of early migrants were Christians but 1924 legislation limited Asian migration. Israeli’s 1948 war of establishment and the Egyptian and Iraqi revolutions in the 1950s launched a wave of migration of educated professionals from these countries as well as Syria. Numbers swelled from the mid-1960s with the removal of the quota system.

Arabs, especially Muslims, encountered racial and religious prejudice in the society and in films where Arabs were often villains. This grew after pro-Israel groups and political lobby organisations fanned anti-Arab feeling. Arab citizens belatedly founded anti-discrimination organisations which have made little impact on attitudes long shaped by anti-Arab prejudice and fanned by the pro-Israel lobby. This peaked after al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington, prompting ignorant whites to attack turbaned Sikhs of Indian as well as Arabs and Muslims.

Blacks and Asians were subjected to racism, abuse and violence largely because they are physically distinct from the white majority. However, white immigrants from Germany, Ireland,

Russia, Italy, Greece and elsewhere in Europe also faced racial prejudice. Racism in the US is endemic and unending.

During World War II, US citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up and put in internment camps, German and Italian citizens, including Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza, were detained for a time. Donald Trump’s German roots became Swedish. When John F. Kennedy stood for the presidency in 1960 he faced both anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic prejudice but became the first Irish Catholic to win. The second, incumbent Joe Biden faced anti-Irish feeling when growing up in Pennsylvania although not during his presidential run.  He is the second Irish Catholic US president.

Incoming white immigrants not only subjected Africans and Asians to racism but also attacked, ethnically cleansed, and discriminated against North American indigenous people whose numbers dramatically diminished after the arrival of European colonists. Today natives remain an underclass, many living in abject poverty on reservations.

In an effort to combat widespread racism, Biden has appointed cabinet ministers from all races, including an indigenous woman, Deb Haaland, who is interior secretary. She is the first from her community. It’s about time.


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