Special Report: AAPI Communities in the United States

Summary


This special report explores the recent increase in discrimination, harassment, and hate crimes perpetrated against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in the United States. While anti-AAPI sentiments, discrimination, harassment, and hate crimes have scarred the United States since the late 19th century, the previous year and a half (2019-2021) has witnessed a surge in reported incidents, due largely to Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. In this report, Genocide Watch seeks to shed light on the underdiscussed and underreported oppression of AAPI communities in the United States.


Trish Villanueva, of Seattle, at a We Are Not Silent rally organized by the Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition Against Hate and Bias in Bellevue, Wash., on March 18, 2021. Credit: Jason Redmond / AFP - Getty Images file

Demography


Asian American and Pacific Islanders comprise the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., with 20 million Asian Americans tracing their roots to East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Six of the largest Asian groups account for 85% of the Asian population in the U.S. (see Figure 1). While AAPI communities are often classified monolithically, there are major differences between them in income, education, and other key demographics. Ignoring differences between different AAPI identities and their needs is both dehumanizing and detrimental to effective policymaking.


Figure 1: AAPI Demographics in the U.S. (Pew Research Center)



Historical Treatment of AAPI Communities in the U.S.


U.S. colonialism in the Philippines and war in Southeast Asia fostered an American imagining of Asia as a region to "dominate." This attitude also resulted in the fetishization of Asian women. American GIs in Asia, particularly during the Vietnam War and Korean War, exploited Asian women in the sex industry. They contributed to a male mentality that Asian women’s bodies exist solely for white male pleasure.


Discriminatory tropes against AAPI communities fit primarily into two categories: the “model minority” trope, which characterizes AAPI immigrants as ideal, submissive, and economically successful, and the “yellow peril” trope, which characterizes AAPI immigrants as dangerous, unclean, and unfit for western society.


The “model minority” trope hinges on the false perception that most “Asians” are wealthy top earners, with children who are superior students and who gain admission into top universities, depriving white students of equal opportunities. The reality starkly contradicts this stereotype, with rising income inequality between the top 10% of Asian-Americans and the bottom 10%. (See Figure 2.) In fact, most Asian-Americans have fewer economic and political opportunities than white Americans.


AAPI women experience an added layer of discrimination resulting from historical and persistent toxic fetishization, hyper-sexualization, and exoticization. Asian women are popularly characterized as submissive and servile. This fantasy about AAPI women makes them more vulnerable to violence, as evidenced by the March 2021 murders at several Atlanta-area spas.


Despite the inseparability of sexism and racism, this intersectionality is seldom discussed or even noted in reports of violence against AAPI women.


Codified racism against AAPI communities has been evident in U.S. legislation since the 19th century. The 1875 Page Act, effectively prohibited Chinese women from entering the U.S. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act barred all Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S. These laws followed popular reaction against the influx of thousands of Chinese laborers hired to build the American railroads.


During World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned from 1942–1945. Their internment was even upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Korematsu v. U.S., the court's most racist decision since Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson.