Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) has signed legislation mandating public schools teach Asian American history, making the state the first in the nation to do so. The legislation, the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act, requires a unit of Asian American history to be taught in public schools beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. As part of the curriculum, students should be taught “the contributions of Asian Americans toward advancing civil rights from the 19th century onward,” Pritzker’s office said in a statement. The curriculum should also include “the contributions made by individual Asian Americans in government, arts, humanities, and sciences,” as well as “the contributions of Asian American communities to the economic, cultural, social, and political development of the United States.”
“I have pepper spray and I hold it every time I’m alone right now in case I see someone that is really frightening,” said New York City teacher Annie Tan, who is Chinese American. By February 2020, friends of hers had already been verbally harassed on the subway. One had been deliberately coughed on. Another was too scared to take the train anymore. Many Asian Americans and Asian immigrants are experiencing similar incidents. A neighbor pointed to her and said “China virus,” said Ah Ying, a homecare worker in San Francisco who immigrated years ago from Taishan, China. A physical assault on an Asian American occurred near where she lives. Ah Ying has told her daughter to restrict her activities outside the home.
Over the past few weeks, the subject of anti-Asian racism has received an unusual degree of Western media attention, ever since a video showing the January 28 killing of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai immigrant in San Francisco, was widely shared on social media. Coverage intensified when gunman Robert Aaron Long targeted three Asian-owned spas on March 6, killing six Asian women among eight victims in Atlanta, Georgia. Local and national media centered the gunman’s professed motive of a “sex addiction” and police statements disputing whether the crime was racially motivated, even though gendered racism is still a factor when racist incidents don’t meet the narrow and arbitrary requirements of what constitutes a hate crime (FAIR.org, 3/26/21).
Responding to the spike in anti-Asian violence, Philadelphia joined scores of communities across the country Saturday in a National Day of Action Against Asian Hate launched by the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition. “We have a lot of community support, and we’re expecting hundreds of participants … at Franklin Square,” said Echo Alford, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Liberation Center and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which coordinated the afternoon event with the support of about a dozen other local organizations. That estimate proved to be accurate.
The complicity of an Asian American officer in the murder of George Floyd is forcing Asian American communities across the country to face the ongoing ways in which we have benefited from and acted in complicity with broader systems of white supremacy. Even though the vast majority of the police officers and vigilantes most directly responsible for killing Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and the countless other Black people who have been killed have been white, we Asian Americans, and other non-Black people of color, do not get to look away or make anti-Black racism a problem that white people need to fix. In George Floyd’s case, we have learned that an Asian American officer, Tou Thao, who is Hmong American, was one of the four Minneapolis Police Department officers involved in killing Floyd.
The pandemic has laid bare racism against Asian communities that some might have thought was a thing of the past. That awareness will inform our policymaking in the future. Our network is in constant communication about what works best for cities, for schools, for deploying police and firefighters, for offering economic relief to residents — and yes, for combating bigotry. When we emerge from the war on this virus, we will extend what we are learning to all the other “wars” we have — on poverty, addiction, and injustice — in a new way.
The coronavirus has turned everyone’s lives upside down, but at the same time Covid-19 threatens us all, Asian Americans have been subjected to another dangerous epidemic: racism. Since news of the novel coronavirus began to spread in the U.S., Asian Americans have been the victims of hate crimes, verbal and physical abuse, and have even had to hear President Donald Trump insultingly call the deadly bug the “China virus” in official White House Press briefings. The targeted prejudice comes at the same time many people of Asian descent are risking their own lives on the medical frontlines to save patients with Covid-19. This week, Asian American foreign policy experts, joined by many others in their community, sounded the alarm about the rising wave of attacks they were facing, writing,
In an op-ed published April 1st, former Democratic Party presidential candidate Andrew Yang commented on the increase in racist assaults against Asian-Americans occurring across the country in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Yang argued that Asian-Americans can best respond to racism by appealing to white America and becoming an even stronger fixture within the social order. According to Yang, Asian Americans “…need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”