Asian Americans are facing a crisis. Random acts of violence against individuals have escalated, as the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and the wave of street attacks perpetrated particularly against older people have made clear. But beyond the headlines, as an online webinar on Thursday illuminated, the problem is deeper: centuries of entrenched racism, much of which has been fostered, if not engendered, by the media and the fears of white America.
“These conditions we are experiencing now are not new,” said Vivian Shaw, a Harvard College fellow and co-principal investigator of the AAPI COVID-19 Project, a partnership between the Department of Sociology and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “They are embedded in the history of the U.S., in the history of racism, and the history of imperialism.”
“I hope today we can think about the histories that have led us to this point,” she said, convening the 90-minute symposium, which was sponsored by the Harvard University Asia Center, and co-sponsored by the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard-Yenching Institute, Korea Institute, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, and Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.
For Han Lu, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, the current violence is part of larger systemic inequities. He linked the attacks to structural racism against other minorities and discussed the high rate of incarceration in this country, citing reports by the Brennan Center, among others. Highlighting the 500 percent increase in the incarcerated population over the past 20 years, he pointed out how funding priorities have shifted. “What’s happened in the criminal legal system is that housing, food, clean water, clean air, places to learn and make mistakes, and tools to do one’s work have [essentially] been replaced by prisons and various surveillance systems.”