Submitted by Naomi, WWU student intern
Amid the ongoing stress and threat of COVID-19 that has hindered our communities for over a year now, the rise in xenophobic, racist, and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) has increased as well. The racism and hate mirror the aftermath that followed 9/11, aimed at Muslims and South Asians. The current socio-political climate during the pandemic has magnified the “yellow peril” discourse against Asian Americans— a racist ideology that has its origins in 1882 with the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The contributors to this post acknowledge that these acts are not the same racism that Black Americans have been enduring for centuries. Anti-Asian racism can only exist in a system that perpetuates anti-Blackness. Racism is an oppressive ideology that is supported and maintained by social structures and culture, elevating the status of certain groups by disadvantaging others. In the present situation, Asians are seen as the “cause” of Covid-19 and violent attacks have occurred:
- On Jan. 31, 2021, in Oakland Chinatown, a 91-year-old man was assaulted and shoved to the ground outside the Asian Resource Center.
- One day later, Feb. 1, in San Francisco, California, an 84-year-old Thai man was slammed into the ground and it was caught on chilling video right outside his home. Two days later he died from injuries.
- On Feb. 25, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a 36-year-old Asian victim was stabbed in the back due to “how he looked at” the attacker.
- On March 16, in Atlanta, Georgia, eight individuals were killed during a shooting spree at three Asian-owned spas and six of the victims were of Asian descent. This marks the sixth mass killing in the US this year.
Many in our community don’t realize that anti-Asian sentiments are deeply rooted in Bellingham’s history:
- In 1884, the Whatcom Reveille newspaper launched a boycott against Chinese individuals, negatively impacting their homes and increasing physical threats. The movement led to expulsion. On November 6, a gathering was held in celebration of the “exit of Mongolian serfs and coolies” with a parade and speech by the mayor.
- South Asian lumber mills workers were portrayed as a “dusky peril” in newspapers in September 1907, launching a campaign which demanded “no South Asians be employed in Bellingham after Labor Day.” When these demands were not met, rioters broke into the mills. The workers, rather than the rioters, were jailed, their personal property destroyed, and over 250 workers were forced to leave Bellingham.
- In 1942, Bellingham Japanese residents were relocated when President Roosevelt authorized executive order 9066. Two graduating seniors at Bellingham High School never received their diplomas. According to The Journal of Whatcom County Historical Society, none of the Japanese residents returned to Whatcom County.
The organization Stop AAPI Hate was established in March 2020 as a platform for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to report acts of hate and discrimination from across the country. Since then, over 3,795 reports have been filed.
As the violence increases across the U.S., so does the reach into younger age groups, as we can see from these examples from across the country.
- Human feces was found on the front door of an Asian-owned preschool.
- A middle schooler had orange juice thrown on her in a bathroom stall, as attackers yelled, “Coronavirus!”
- A summer camp in Seattle, WA introduced a game called “corona touch” which targeted Asian campers as the ones with the “virus.”
- During a second-grade class held on Zoom, one student told the class he does not like “China or Chinese people because they started this quarantine.”
- An anonymous post on a school website read, “Our entire year was ruined by the Chinese. Thank you, [expletive]. From the non Chinese.”
What can we do? As a community, we can raise awareness about systemic inequalities and their impacts on our families. Speak up when you witness discrimination and provide advocacy and support resources, along with district policies, as needed:
- Seattle-based Asian Counseling and Referral Service promotes social justice and the well-being and empowerment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities – including immigrants, refugees, and American-born – by developing, providing and advocating for innovative, effective and efficient community-based multilingual and multicultural services.
- The Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs serves to improve the lives of Asian Pacific Americans in Washington state by ensuring their access to participation in the fields of government, business, education, and other areas (Chapter 43.117 RCW).
- Bellingham Public Schools’ Harassment, Intimidation And Bullying procedure and reporting forms are available online.
- The Employee Assistance Program, which supports Bellingham Public Schools staff, is available 24/7 and includes counseling supports.
BPS staff and guests contribute to our EDI blog to educate and inform, inspire civil dialogue and connect with community resources. The blog is part of Bellingham Public School’s ongoing work on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, a key strategy in The Bellingham Promise.