A Not-So-New Epidemic: Xenophonic Rhetoric and Anti-Asian Sentiments Within the U.S.

by: Lizzy Trinh

On January 28, 2021, an elderly immigrant from Thailand was taking his morning stroll in a San Francisco neighborhood when he was violently shoved to his death in a racially motivated attack. The mourning family of the victim expressed that this hate crime was not simply a random, isolated event, but an assault rooted in anti-Asian racism which has significantly increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this fatal assault is only a single incident in a growing pool of unprovoked acts of violence towards AAPI citizens in the United States.

A recent exponential increase in reports from the AAPI community demonstrates a rise in racism, prejudice, and discrimination against Asian Americans, including the fatal shooting of six Asian women in Atlanta in March 2021. The Pew Research Center conducted a study revealing that one-third of Asian Americans fear being physically attacked or threatened, a larger percentage than other racial or ethnic groups. 

Xenophobic rhetoric in reference to the deadly coronavirus such as the “Kung Flu” and “Chinese virus,” incited and encouraged by the former U.S. president and members of his administration, are suspected primary contributors to the growing tensions and hostility towards AAPI citizens. A recent report by Stop AAPI Hate disclosed that 1 in 10 tweets about Asian Americans by United States politicians included “racist or stigmatizing language.” Such actions have not only increased public associations between Asians and the Covid-19 pandemic but have fueled acts of bigotry and hostile remarks towards Asian Americans such as “You are the virus.” “Go back to China.” and “You’re the one who brought the virus here.” 

An epidemic of racism towards the AAPI community seems to have grown in concurrence with the Covid-19 pandemic, drawing attention to the gap in systematic research regarding anti-Asian racism and prejudice in the United States. Researchers from six U.S. universities, including UC Berkeley, UCSF, and UCLA, recognized this issue and performed a comprehensive study to quantify changes in sentiments towards Asian Americans after the emergence of Covid-19.

In the study, titled “Exploring U.S. Shifts in Anti-Asian Sentiment with the Emergence of COVID-19,” researchers collected a randomized sample of 3,377,295 tweets posted from November 2019 to June 2020 using Twitter’s Streaming Application Programming Interface. Analysis was performed on tweets containing race-related keywords to track shifts in sentiments towards racial and ethnic groups as the Covid-19 pandemic increasingly spread throughout the United States. Researchers uncovered an alarming 68.4 percent increase in the proportion of negative tweets referring to Asians, while the percentage of negative tweets towards other racial groups remained relatively constant over time. The greatest proportion of negative tweets towards Asian Americans took place during the week of March 16th, following former president Donald Trump’s decision to brand COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”

This study provides significant evidence supporting the growing number of anecdotal reports of anti-Asian sentiments and demonstrates a critical need to address the racial ramifications of divisive rhetoric. Anti-Asian racism and xenophobia are not new to American society; however, its rapid and drastic increase with the emergence of the pandemic has forced U.S. citizens to confront the need for change. 

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