The recent shootings in Atlanta and Cherokee County took eight lives, six of them Asian – highlighting the rise in anti-Asian racism after COVID-19
The victims of the Tuesday shooting were mourned across social media and in street vigils this week, as communities attempt to process this violence.
The shooter had been a customer at two of the spas he targeted, Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa. He described these places as “temptation,” and framed his fatal attack as fuelled by his sexual addiction to East Asian women. Activists are describing the murders as a convergence of racism, classism and sexism.
These perceptions have increased since COVID-19 made Asian people hyper-visible in the United States.
Data continues to point to Asian communities experiencing more hospitalisation and death in proportion to white people – both in the UK and US. Care homes in the US have been a poignant source of ethnic divide in deaths. At the same time, East and South East Asian people are collectively blamed for the existence of this virus.
Shannon Harper, assistant professor of criminal justice at Iowa State University, commented: “COVID-19 has allowed for racism and xenophobia to spread because the majority population looks for someone to blame who looks or seems inherently different from themselves, which may be why anti-Asian hate crime appears to have increased during the pandemic.”
Rise in anti-Asian Twitter after the phrase “China virus”
It’s been over a year since former President Donald Trump tweeted about the “Chinese virus” on 16 March, 2020. A research team at UC San Francisco found that this tweet led to an increase in anti-Asian language online, after examining nearly 1.3 million hashtags the week before and after Mr Trump’s tweet.
While language is considered to be harmless by those who misuse it, the use of a certain kind of language is a sign of existing or growing hatred. This kind of racism can translate into a tragic, irreversible action, as the Asian community experienced in Atlanta last Tuesday.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time that anti-Asian racism has bloomed in relation to public health. During the bubonic plague in San Francisco in 1900, public health officials quarantined Chinese residents in Chinatown, and the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s saw East Asians experiencing global stigmatisation.
According to their analysis, anti-Asian hashtags associated with #chinesevirus increased quickly after that fateful 16 March tweet by the former President.
When people tweeted the hashtag #chinesevirus, over half of the time they also added racially discriminatory hashtags – such as #bateatingchinese; #yellowmanfever; #makethecommiechinesepay; #disgustingchinese; and #commieflu.
‘The perpetuation of further stigmatisation’
“These results may be a proxy of growth in anti-Asian sentiment that was not as prevalent as before,” said Yulin Hswen, ScD, MPH, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and a member of the Bakar Computational Health Sciences Institute. “Using racial terms associated with a disease can result in the perpetuation of further stigmatization of racial groups.”
Hswen further commented that as recently as March, 2021, Trump described the COVID-19 vaccine as the “China Virus Vaccine.”
“Chinese virus, China virus, Wuhan virus, or any derivative of these terms is not something we should be using. We should not be attaching location or ethnicity to diseases.”