U.S. discrimination against Asians is rooted in deep-seated racism

Dennis Etler


Event organizer Ryan Doan Nguyen chants "Stop Asian hate; Love Asian people" while guiding the people through the streets and past Chinatown after they gathered around the Parkman Bandstand during a Stop Asian Hate Boston rally in Boston, March 13, 2021. /Getty

Editor's note: Dennis Etler is a current affairs commentator who holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California, Berkley. He conducted archaeological and anthropological research in China throughout the 1980s and 1990s and taught at the college and university level for over 35 years. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The latest spate of racially motivated shootings in Atlanta, Georgia and its environs left eight people, mostly Asian women, dead. The shooter, a young white male fits the profile of previous perpetrators of racist violence. Why is the U.S. so prone to these deadly attacks?

The U.S. is a twisted society in more ways than one. While it leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, it also leads the world in mass shootings and mass incarceration. All of these phenomena are related, they are a product of rampant racism.

The U.S. was founded on racism. The enslavement of Africans and the genocidal extermination of Native Americans, which allowed the propertied white colonists to prosper and thrive, was justified by racism. The theft of Black labor and Native land laid the foundation for the growth and development of the nation. This was quickly followed by the predatory Mexican-American War of 1846 in which the U.S. seized nearly half of Mexico.

All these overt acts of racism were enforced by deadly force, primarily the use of firearms. Gun violence is thus part and parcel of the American experience. Guns and racism go hand in hand. It is not surprising that violence against racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. is not only commonplace but overtly practiced by the law enforcement establishment and remains a pervasive aspect of American society. When police officers routinely shoot and kill unarmed Blacks and coddle suspected White vigilantes, is it any wonder that racially motivated violence continues unabated throughout the country?

The latest victims are members of the Asian-American community. The persistent drumbeat of anti-Chinese propaganda by U.S. politicians and the American mass media have promoted a xenophobic hatred of Asians since the average American sees all people of Asian heritage as "Chinese." Thus, of the victims of the latest mass shooting that left eight people dead, four were Koreans. Many of the victims of violence against Asians are from other Asian countries as well.

This indiscriminate violence against Asians is reinforced by common racist tropes that have become ingrained in the American psyche, such as "the yellow peril" and various racial stereotypes that denigrate people of Asian origin. Chinese people serve as a convenient surrogate for all Asians so the stereotypes applied to them apply to all. These stereotypes encourage violence. In American popular culture, Asian men are emasculated and Asian women are sexualized. Asians are "kung-fu" fighters who lack humanity, controlled by evil, devious "Fu Manchu" overlords.

Hundreds marched through Chinatown en route to the State House during a Stop Asian Hate Boston rally in Boston, March 13, 2021. /Getty

This fits in very well with China-bashing U.S. propaganda which portrays China in a similar light. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the only Chinese who can be trusted are those who wave the American flag and pledge fealty to America as the exceptional, indispensable global beacon of "liberty and freedom." But, even those who wholeheartedly accept the "American Dream" are not exempted from the racist violence which may await them around any corner.

With the election of Barack Obama as the first Black American president, it was touted that the U.S. had entered a post-racial age. But, all it did was ignite racial animosity in a significant portion of white Americans. This was manifested in the election of Donald Trump whose thinly veiled appeals to racism catapulted him to office. With his failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, he turned to scapegoating China. What ensued was a barrage of China-bashing propaganda that was embraced by both political parties and persists to this day.

As China continues to advance on all fronts and the U.S. is confronted with multiple social, economic, political and cultural crises, stigmatizing China and by extension all Asians has become widespread throughout American society. Given the pervasive gun culture that prevails in many sectors of American society, deadly violence against Asians is likely to grow.

Appeals by U.S. President Joe Biden to stop the violence directed against Asian-American are perfunctory at best. As the U.S. continues to attack China with unfounded accusations in order to advance its own global ambitions and thwart China's growth and development, the incentive to attack Asian-Americans by those infected with the anti-China virus will continue unabated.

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