By Joseph Zhang
For Northwest Asian Weekly
I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was on the sidewalk outside of my pharmacy, my hands resting warmly in my hoodie pockets, my earbuds muffling the sound of passing cars, and my gaze upon the ground—just minding my own business. Out of the corner of my eyes, I noticed a pair of feet scuttling away from me. I peered up to the woman receding in front of me, her glare fixed on me as she gravitated closer to the curb, promptly hurrying towards her car while muttering something at me barely louder than a whisper. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It wasn’t until a week later when it happened again online. I was on Omegle with some of my friends, talking to random people, when I was put with two strangers. The first one, a white girl, noticed that I was Asian, and remarked, “Oh, he’s Chinese.” Her friend quipped immediately, “Does he eat bats”? They burst out in laughter while I stood there in disbelief. Before I could even say anything, they were gone.
I’m tired of dealing with encounters like these. In a time marked by hate and inequity, nearly a year into the COVID-19 and BLM eras, I’m often reminded that discrimination is practically inevitable for any minority. Yet, it frustrates me that American media commonly neglects Asian racism and hate.
Through the past year, more than 2,500 hate crimes against Asian Americans have been reported throughout the United States, and while this did spark a temporary spotlight on the racism that people like us face, the compassion has died out.
As the United States shifts tides, moving from one presidential regime to the next, the normalization of Asian American racism persists. Donald Trump was the first person to coin the term “kung-flu,” originally mocking Chinese culture because China supposedly fabricated COVID-19. While small businesses have been damaged, no industry has been hit harder than public dining. In Chinatowns across America, many of these eateries have been permanently shuttered: 270 of New York’s Chinese restaurants and 150 of San Francisco’s Chinese restaurants have been reduced to 40 each. Nationwide, 59% of Chinese restaurants have been forced to close.
Washington state has seen its share of racism, too, as crimes targeting Asians nearly doubled in 2020. Where are the public protests or social media campaigns? Nowhere to be found. Public institutions remain indifferent to the pain that people like me share. One public school district in Washington went so far as to exclude Asian Americans as people of color. It seems as if people have altogether forgotten the systemic disadvantages and bigotry that Asians face.
Of course, Asian Americans do not experience discrimination on the same level that other minorities do. The country that was founded on slavery, that fought a war over the right for people to be free, that did not allow Black women to vote until about half a century ago, reflects a history of hatred against Blacks that is abysmal and cruel.
However, while society is beginning to create dialogues on where we went wrong and what is right, the buzz that once advocated for Asian equality has dissipated. After a year that has moved millions and created protests to advocate for equality, the community that is regarded as one of the fastest-growing demographics continues to be ignored.
What it takes for the mistreatment to be solved is acknowledgment—an acknowledgment that bigotry is real, that Asians are damaged by it, and that we are not inherently a “model minority,” is what it takes for resolve.
Whether it’s a one-on-one talk, a school group discussion, or an Op-Ed in a newspaper, anything that will help expose this modern reality and generate understanding will make a difference. It takes all of us.
Joseph Zhang is a junior at the Overlake School in Redmond.