COMMENTARY

Reckoning With America's Alarming Rise in Anti-Asian Hate

Lorenzo Norris, MD

Disclosures

August 02, 2021

On March 16, the world was witness to a horrific act of violence when a gunman killed six Asian American women and two others at spas in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. The attack prompted a national outcry and protests against the rising levels of hate and violence directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), a community that has experienced a profound and disturbing legacy of racism in American history.

Despite this fact, my own understanding and awareness of the hate and racism experienced by the AAPI community, then and now, would be described as limited at best. Was I aware on some level? Perhaps. But if I'm being honest, I have not fully appreciated the unique experiences of AAPI colleagues, friends, and students.

That changed when I attended a White Coats Against Asian Hate & Racism rally, held by the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences 2 months after the Atlanta killings. Hearing my colleagues speak of their personal experiences, I quickly realized my lack of education of how systemic racism has long affected Asian Americans in this country.

Measuring the Alarming Rise in Anti-Asian Hate

The data supporting a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes has been staring us in the face for decades but has drawn increasing attention since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when these already distressingly high numbers experienced a steep rise.

Before looking at these figures, though, we must begin by defining what is considered a hate crime vs a hate incident. The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum have produced a beneficial summary document on precisely what separates these terms:

  • A hate crime is a crime committed on the basis of the victim's perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It differs from "regular" crime in that its victims include the immediate crime target and others like them. Hate crimes affect families, communities, and, at times, an entire nation.

  • A hate incident describes acts of prejudice that are not crimes and do not involve violence, threats, or property damage. The most common examples are isolated forms of speech, such as racial slurs.

Stop AAPI Hate (SAH) was founded in March 2020 as a coalition to track and analyze incidents of hate against this community. SAH's 2020-2021 national report details 3795 hate incidents that occurred from March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021. In a notable parallel to the Georgia killings, SAH found that Asian American women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more often than men  and that businesses were the primary site of discrimination.

This rise in hate incidents has occurred in parallel with an increase in Asian American hate crimes. Recently, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSUSB) released its Report to the Nation: Anti-Asian Prejudice & Hate Crime. CSUSB found that anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 164% in the first quarter of 2021. I re-read that data point multiple times, thinking it must be in error. If you're asking exactly why I was having difficulty accepting this data, you have to appreciate these two critical points:

  • Per the CSUSB, anti-Asian hate crimes were already surging by 146% in 2020.

  • This surge occurred while overall hate crimes dropped by 7%.

So, if 2020 was a surge,  the first quarter of 2021 is a hurricane. What's perhaps most concerning is that these data only capture reported cases and therefore are a fraction of the total.

Undoubtedly, we are living through an unprecedented rise in anti-Asian hate incidents and hate crimes since the start of the pandemic. This rise in hate-related events paralleled the many pandemic-related stressors (disease, isolation, economics, mental health, etc.). Should anyone have been surprised when this most recent deadly spike of anti-Asian hate occurred in the first quarter of 2021?

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