In the past year, our country’s most powerful leaders failed Asian Americans at every opportunity by wallowing in racist stereotypes that assigned blame to the Asian American community for a global pandemic. The rhetoric became increasingly hostile and rose from racist asides to violence and harassment that disproportionately targeted children, women, and the elderly.
Here at home in Minnesota, we were devastated by the horrific mass shooting in Georgia that killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women at three different Asian businesses. We grieve for the lives lost. We grieve because we know we are not protected. We grieve because it could have happened here. Last year, Minnesota ranked 15th among all states for the highest number of reported hate incidents against Asian Americans in the country. Across the United States, we saw a 150 percent increase in reported anti-Asian violence.
These incidents have left Asian Minnesotans traumatized, fearing whether we can safely go about our lives and wondering whether systems and institutions will include us, invest in us, help protect us or even give a damn about the people they call friends, neighbors and co-workers. This is why the Coalition of Asian American Leaders have called for greater inclusion and investments to communities, formed the Asian Minnesotans Alliance for Justice, and are supporting new public safety systems that keep us all safe.
State law loopholes need to be closed
Currently, Minnesota state law has loopholes that make it harder to classify racist violence. That’s why we are supporting Communities Combating Hate and are advocating to reform laws, including reshaping how hate crimes are defined and handled. The Combating-Hate bill, HF 1691, would close loopholes that misclassify hate acts and allow victims to report hate incidents to non-law-enforcement entities, like community organizations and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Additionally, the bill provides much needed support for the victims of hate crimes.
The passing of this bill would mean that if our loved ones died tragically like the victims in Georgia, we would not be spending days debating whether their deaths were a hate crime. It is long past time for those with power to stand up to hate and protect our communities made most vulnerable at this time.
A long pattern of discrimination and bias
Since our communities first immigrated to the United States, there has been anti-Asian discrimination and bias – from the Page Act of 1875 that excluded Chinese women from immigrating to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that then included Chinese men, to the unlawful and immoral internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, to the unfair surveillance programs targeting Muslims and South Asians after Sept. 11, to the systemic deportation of Southeast Asians today – this is part of our American story.
We’ve known anti-Asian racism has not just been about one lone actor with hate in their heart; it’s been about systemically ignoring our contributions, fetishizing our women, keeping us foreign and erasing our history. That’s why the killings in Georgia and the narratives about the killer’s motives in the aftermath are not helping; rather it’s exacerbating our community’s pain and anger. We knew these attitudes existed, and all signs warned us that it was only a matter of time before tragedy struck.
What happened in Georgia shook our community, but Asian Minnesotans were sadly not surprised. It represents the worst that can happen when racism and misogyny go unchecked, but we believe it doesn’t have to be who we are. We stand in solidarity with all Minnesotans and Americans who understand that to end racism and misogyny we must see it for what it is and work across and between our communities to do better so we can stop hate.
Bo Thao-Urabe is the executive & network director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL). Bilal Alkatout is CAAL’s board chair. The authors are writing on behalf of CAAL’s Board of Directors and staff.
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