At a time of national crisis when Americans may benefit from rallying together, attitudes toward racial minorities seem to be hardening, especially when it comes to Asian and Black Americans.
A study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released Wednesday shows that nearly 40% of Asian and Black Americans – as well as 27% of Hispanics – say they’ve had adverse experiences because of their race or ethnicity since the coronavirus outbreak began. Those experiences include hearing slurs or jokes or fearing someone may threaten or physically attack them.
By contrast, only 13% of whites reported similar instances.
In addition, almost 40% of U.S. adults – including 58% of the respondents of Asian descent – said it’s more common for people to express racist views about Asians than before the outbreak. And both Black Americans (42%) and Asian Americans (36%) expressed a significant degree of concern that they might arouse suspicion if they wear a mask when in stores or other businesses.
That’s a particularly worrisome response considering the consensus of health experts that wearing face coverings helps curb the virus’ spread, which has led public officials in several cities and states to make them mandatory when in public.
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John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC, said the findings reflect the feedback his advocacy organization and others have been getting for months.
The Anti-Defamation League said in mid-June that since January there has been a surge in reports of harassment and threats targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including comments such as “Go back to China,’’ and accusations of “bringing the virus’’ to the U.S.
“Our community is struggling to cope with COVID-19 xenophobic attacks and it is heartbreaking to know that both Asian and Black people have to struggle with the paradox of putting their safety at risk when they are wearing face masks to protect their health,” Yang said. “With this research report, we now have the data to show that language continuing to fan the flames of xenophobia is heightening the direct discrimination and aggression our communities face.”
Some of those flames have been stoked by President Donald Trump, who early in the pandemic made repeated references to the “Chinese virus’’ – COVID-19 originated in China – and lately has taken to referring to the virus as the “kung flu.’’
In a Pew survey released June 12, researchers found 48% of the general public believed Trump has made things worse when it comes to race relations, a belief shared by 68% of Black Americans and 62% of Asian Americans.
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Zhengyu Huang, president of the Committee of 100 – an organization of prominent Chinese Americans – said Asian Americans increasingly find themselves blamed for the coronavirus by people in this country who view them as foreigners, not as fellow citizens.
“These threats of violence and discrimination don’t exist in a vacuum,’’ Huang said. “That is why C100 has called repeatedly on political candidates, including President Trump, to refrain from inflammatory or divisive rhetoric, deliberate fearmongering and the use of race or racially coded advertising for political gain.’’
The survey released Wednesday polled 9,654 American adults and was conducted from June 4-10, at a time of widespread protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Neil Ruiz, associate director of global migration and demography research for the Pew Research Center, said some of the responses may have been influenced by those demonstrations and the national conversation about racism that they sparked.
For example, although 45% of Black adults responding to the survey said it’s more common for people to express racist views against them, 51% said they have heard expressions of support.
Alvin Tillery, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University who is an expert on racial and ethnic politics, said the survey accurately represents Asian and African American communities. He added that the findings about increased hostility toward those groups are consistent with his research and what he has learned from other sources.
Tillery said more information was needed to draw conclusions about the supportive statements Black Americans reported hearing amid a time of frequent protests, but he was definitive in his conclusion that some of the president’s comments amid the pandemic have contributed to the antagonism against Asians in the U.S.
“While he may dismiss these statements as jokes or attacks on China, the reality is that our fellow citizens in the Asian American community are the ones who suffer at the racism that this activates in the broader public," Tillery said. “I know that Mr. Trump has also condemned the hate crimes against Asian Americans, but the reality is that these condemnations lose their force if he then subsequently returns to making racist jokes about it.’’
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