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Commentary: The Resurgence of Racism Against Asian Americans - A Reckoning

Maureen Marx

Attacks on Asian Americans in the United States in the last year have risen coinciding with the anti-Chinese rhetoric tied with the pandemic and by the proliferation of far-right propaganda. Xenophobia has been an American staple and the scapegoating of Asians is nothing new. The Asian narrative in America has been historically torturous. Asians in this country for centuries have been subjected to all manner of unconscionable acts, which they have quietly endured. It’s been said that Asians are minimized in America because they minimize themselves. "Keep your head down, work hard, and don’t complain;" such are the Asian rules of conduct for success in America. Collectivism and face saving, which feed these behaviors, are fundamentally crucial in Asian cultures because the first one ensures harmony on which the second one is built. But as recent events show, this thinking needs a major overhaul.

The current hate crimes on Asian Americans are chilling on three fronts: their randomness, the commission of some attacks by other minorities, and the indifference and absence of succor from those who witness these attacks. Asian Americans are left questioning where they fit in this country. Today, 1/3 of Asian Americans fear some form of attack, 8 in10 report that violence against them is increasing. There is fear, anxiety, frustration, and rage, but there has also been a fueling of young Asian American activism heretofore unseen.

The racial history of the United States is the history of minorities. Racism in America today is rife and brazen. It is hierarchical, extensive, and systemic, and because it is systemic, all forms of racism are interrelated. People of color who’ve been subjected to unprovoked verbal and physical attacks are processed through what Joe Faegin calls “The White Racial Frame”— the centuries old creation and thinking that whiteness is supreme and an entitlement. So embedded is this in the psyche of the dominant culture that many deny or are unaware that it even exists.

White privilege in this country has always been seen as the norm, the natural state of affairs. But privilege in any form is never a biological given. It is a socio-economic and political construct that can be deconstructed. The racial injustices and inequalities that fall out of white privilege must be acknowledged and redressed by those who benefit from it.

Asian Americans who come from myriad diverse cultures comprise 6% of the US population. They are the fastest growing ethnic group with a total purchasing power of $1.3 trillion. Yet they are still seen as a monolith, mostly invisible, the perpetual foreigners.

Through political, educational, cultural, and individual initiatives, ill-based stereotypical assumptions about Asian Americans could be changed. The desire of all minority groups for equal status with White America could foster a sense of oneness, an interdependency between other minorities and Asian Americans. As for White America, it has to understand that the preferential treatment it gets is not its unalienable right. Collectively in time, these factors might help end not just attacks on Asians.

The hope is that, one day, other people of color and the white community in this country will realize that Asian Americans are not their adversary, and despite the slings and arrows hurled at us, I am more than ever proud to be Asian!

Maureen Marx is retired from Western Illinois University, where she was chair of the Speech Pathology and Audiology Department. She is now a volunteer and community activist.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of WIU or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.