In March, as U.S. officials discussed the so-called "China virus," the FBI warned about an increase in anti-Asian bias as a result of Asians being blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this week, a Center for Public Integrity poll showed 30% of Americans have witnessed bias incidents against Asians. As the economy struggles, experts expect these incidents to increase.
"We were monitoring the situation because we just knew historically this might not bode well for us," says Cynthia Choi, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action.
Choi says public health crises and economic downturns have been occasions for scapegoating Asians in the past. She cites the hate-motivated murder of Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit during the auto industry downturn in the 1980's. Choi says in San Francisco, Chinatown was the only district quarantined by officials during the 1900 bubonic plague epidemic.
"Believing that the disease was caused by Chinese and Asians, that they were the hosts, they were the carriers, so we're seeing those racist beliefs and tropes being resurrected again with the same kind of racialization of this coronavirus."
One incident on the AAPI Hate Tracker happened in Haleiwa. An Asian family reported people followed and coughed on them from a car. HPD says they've had no COVID-19 related bias incidents reported thus far.
In Honolulu's Chinatown, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported business was down by up to 50% by mid-February, long before any sign of the virus here. Nationally, an anti-Asian and Pacific Islander (API) bias tracker, Stop AAPI Hate, has tallied over 1,500 bias incidents since March 19, 2020. People report being coughed and spat upon, barred from public transport and services, verbally harassed, and physically assaulted.
According to Choi, "Our incident reports show that even though all API's are being targeted, in the description of what is happening, they are assuming the target is Chinese."
On 4Chan and other online forums, the COVID-19 pandemic has been cast as both a Chinese bio-weapon, and a Jewish plot to expand financial control, according to Seth Brysk, Central Pacific regional director with the Anti-Defamation League, a key bias-monitoring organization.
"With the coarsening of the civil dialogue, a loss of civility, dating back to the presidential campaign of 2016 and since that time, and the emboldening of people on the extremes, there's been a sharp increase in targeting of Asian Americans and the crisis itself has provided an opportunity, if you will, for some extremists to target a range of communities they were already directing their hatred toward."
Immigrants, African Americans, the Jewish community -- history shows that these same communities are in increasing danger as the economy worsens, Brysk says.
"There is a concern that should the crisis continue, and should the economic effects worsen and linger, that there will be an effort to scapegoat certain communities," he says.
Brysk says the ADL's former national director was a Holocaust survivor who shared wisdom from his experience.
"That the infamous death camp, Auschwitz, wasn't built with bricks, it was built with words. And he said that because you first have to convince people that it's okay to commit violence against another person."
Check the Instagram hashtag, Jenesuispasunvirus (I am not a virus), for an education in the global communities affected by anti-Asian discrimination.