As the U.S. reckons with longstanding discrimination of Asian Americans that has ticked up during the pandemic, a new poll suggests that scapegoating of Asians persists.
Twenty-five percent of respondents to a new USA Today/Ipsos poll said they had witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the COVID-19 pandemic during the previous month. The poll of 1,195 adults was conducted March 18 to March 19, days after the shooting deaths of eight people at three Atlanta-area spas, six of whom were women of Asian descent.
Asian (46%), Black (40%) and Hispanic (34%) respondents were much more likely than white respondents (18%) to report witnessing this, and Democrats were more likely than Republicans. Meanwhile, in a poll conducted toward the beginning of the pandemic in mid-April of 2020, the share of poll respondents saying they had witnessed this kind of blame was seven percentage points higher, at 32%.
One in five respondents overall said they would be concerned about coming close to someone in public who was of Asian ancestry. The virus has infected people of all races and ethnicities, and as many have pointed out over the past year, “coronavirus has no race or nationality.”
While a majority (57%) of respondents characterized the pandemic as a natural disaster, 43% said they believed “specific people or organizations” were responsible; Republicans were far more likely than Democrats to assign responsibility to specific people or organizations. Among the 43% who believed that overall, more than half cited an entity related to China.
Experts point out that the U.S. has a long tradition of scapegoating and discriminating against Asian Americans, including through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and violence against people perceived to be Muslim in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Marya Mtshali traced the origins of COVID-19-related discrimination in part back to historical racist imagery of Asian Americans related to lack of cleanliness and contagious disease.
Marya Mtshali, a Harvard University lecturer who spoke with MarketWatch last year, traced the origins of COVID-19-related discrimination in part back to historical racist imagery of Asian Americans related to lack of cleanliness and contagious disease.
One study last year found that “the strongest predictors of stigmatization [of people of Asian descent during COVID-19] were stereotypical beliefs about and the racialized emotion of envy toward Asian Americans.”
“The general nature of the racial prejudice included beliefs of inferiority, cultural foreignness, competence of Asian Americans and the emotion of envy,” the authors wrote. “The specific stigmatizing beliefs were that Asian Americans were COVID-19 risk and that they were responsible for the current COVID-19 situation.”
Cases of COVID-19 were first detected in Wuhan, China. Former president Donald Trump drew widespread criticism last year for describing COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” as experts warned such rhetoric could result in discrimination against Asian Americans. Trump and his then press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, denied that he had used racist language.
Anti-Asian hate crimes in 16 of the U.S.’s biggest cities surged 149% in 2020, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino — even as hate crimes fell by 7% overall.
Stop AAPI Hate chronicled 3,795 hate incidents against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, according to statistics published recently by the reporting center. Many of the incidents included verbal harassment (68%), deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans (21%) and physical assault (11%).
Narratives of certain incidents in Stop AAPI Hate’s report spoke to the findings of the recent Ipsos poll. For example: “A [ride hailing service] driver said to me after I got into his car, ‘Damn, another Asian riding with me today, I hope you don’t have any COVID,’” said one person from Las Vegas, Nev.
“I was shouted at and harassed by [business name] cashier, workers, as well as customers at the store to get out of the store. They said, ‘You Chinese bring the virus here and you dare ask people to keep social distance guidelines,’” reported an anonymous person from Cupertino, Calif.
“I am a Pacific Islander. I was at the mall with a friend. I was wearing a plumeria clip and was speaking Chamorro when a woman coughed and said, ‘You and your people are the reason why we have corona,’” added another person from Dallas, Texas. “She then said, ‘Go sail a boat back to your island.’”
While a motive has yet to be determined, the recent shootings in Georgia have led to increased awareness of anti-Asian incidents that have grown in frequency over the past year. Activist groups, pointing to the historical hypersexualization of Asian women, challenged initial police statements that the shooting suspect said he had a “sex addiction” and was not racially motivated.
“Whatever the killer’s motive, these facts are clear,” Vice President Kamala Harris said last week during a visit to Atlanta. “Six out of the eight people killed on Tuesday night were of Asian descent. Seven were women. The shootings took place in businesses owned by Asian-Americans. The shootings took place as violent hate crimes and discrimination against Asian-Americans has risen dramatically over the last year and more.”
Authorities last week charged the suspect with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.