Personal Experiences with Anti-Asian Racism During the Pandemic

James Shih

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Anti-Asian Activity map. Photo by James Shih

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March of 2020 there has been a rise of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. Based on an August 2020 report by the group Stop AAPI Hate, there have been over 2,500 reported hate incidents against Asians/Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders since March, with a majority of reported cases coming from California (47%). Los Angeles–despite its diverse population–has a relatively high number of reported racist incidents, as indicated by this April 2020 map I created to geographically map anti-Asian activity.

To give some human insight into the nature of these attacks, I want to share below two personal incidents that happened to me as well as an incident that happened to my friend.

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Ranting lady. Photo by James Shih

Incident #1: I’m sitting outdoors at a Dunkin’ Donuts patio in the San Fernando Valley while a 60-something year-old white lady a few tables down rants: “You Asian people are going to pay my bills. Bringing the coronavirus here. White people are better…”

She looks like she might be homeless based on the large number of bags she has placed next to her.

I tell her to leave me in peace, which temporarily quiets her. But after about 15 minutes, she starts up again, like a racist record player. What’s different this time is there’s a young woman watching us. She overhears this old woman mumble to me, “You Asians all need to go back to China.”

For some reason now, I freeze up and do nothing. The young woman looks at me and then at the older woman, still ranting. The young woman’s eyes crinkle into a WTF expression, but she says nothing and leaves with her friends.

At this point I decide to film her (image above), she quiets down. When I put my phone away, she starts up again. I go inside to tell the front cashier. He comes out and tells the woman she has to leave unless she stops harassing the other customers. She falls silent and remains this way until I go.

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The angry driver. Photo by James Shih

Incident #2: This past summer, I was on a sidewalk in West LA walking back to my car when a middle aged white male–wearing no face mask–pulled up next to me. With his window down, he flipped me off then drove away.

I looked around me to see if maybe he was flipping off someone else. Nope, just me. It dawned on me then that he probably flipped me off because I’m Asian and wearing a mask. Filled with anger, I rushed to my car to chase him down.

His car was stopped at a traffic light and I pulled up next to him with my car window open, my phone video recording.

“What the [expletive] you say to me?”

“It wasn’t talking to you [expletive].”

“I was the only one on the sidewalk [expletive].”

The light turned green and I followed him to another light. This time he pointed his phone at me.

“Why’d you flip me off [expletive]?”

He did not answer. I was in rage; there was this urge to get out my car and smash his window. Luckily I didn’t. When the light turned green, I let him speed off.

These two personal examples show two different responses I had to racism: one of inaction and one of reaction. In the first example, I did eventually act, but I carry this shame for not being able to stand up when others were watching. It also showed how the silence of others can deepen the pain of an experience. A sentiment I’ve heard from others in the Asian community is that in the U.S. it seems that racism against Asians gets a pass, is minimized, compared to other groups. I feel that.

In the second example, I could see how harmful hate can be. The anger that that man had transferred to me and it almost made me do something I’d regret.

What’s sad is that incidents like these are happening throughout America, incidents steeped deeply in white supremacy. As the term states, white supremacy is a racist concept that places “whiteness” as the top standard and other races as lesser than. It is an ideology that dehumanizes people of color which is then used to legitimize abusive behavior towards minority groups. What is surprising though, is how some do not connect racism to white supremacy.

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LA Chinatown. Photo by James Shih

Incident #3: Daniel Yin, my Yin & Young the Podcast co-host and friend, shared with me emails he received recently in response to an Associated Press article that features Dan’s family restaurant Yang Chow and details how Asian businesses in the U.S. are hit particularly hard financially and being targeted for racist attacks.

One reader, Andy W., was angered by the article and emailed Dan. Andy writes:

Subject: The owner actually said this?

Body: “We don’t have to change,” he said. “We can live, breathe and eat exactly the way we do without having to adapt to white supremacy, to the white gaze, to whiteness. We can be proud of our culinary heritage.”

If the above statement isn't racist, I don't know what is. Disgusting.

Andy is referring to a quote in the article from Clarence Kwan, author of “Chinese Protest Recipes,” who is not the owner of Yang Chow and has no affiliation with the restaurant.

Dan responds:

Hi Andy,

That quote is from Clarence Kwan.

Out of personal curiosity, how are you interpreting this quote anyway? I read it as, “we can eat the food of our heritage without having to change based upon others’ judgment of whether that food is good or not.”

Daniel

Andy writes:

I think your interpretation, as you claim, is fine, however, specifically mentioning white supremacy in the actual statement found in the article is patently offensive not only to me, but to you, and in fact all of humanity if you think about it. It was indefensible, and he put off a lot of people with those words. He offended everyone, including himself! Do you not see the irony?

Knowing how the owner feels, I wouldn't eat at his establishment.

What’s truly ironic is that Andy W. having the nerve to email Dan–who is the wrong person to email to begin with–to delegitimize the experience of a person of color by calling it “indefensible”, and then to say he won’t eat at the restaurant are textbook examples of “white privilege” which comes from “white supremacy.” It is also a textbook example of gas lighting.

White supremacy is a real issue as exhibited by the examples above. I hope that this article gives some personal insight into how Anti-Asian racism is affecting Asians and Asian Americans in this country at a human level. The 2,500 cases mentioned in the Stop AAPI Hate report are just the tip of the iceberg, because–unfortunately–most cases go unreported. Hopefully individuals like Andy and my two attackers are able to see the error of their ways, but I’m not waiting on them.

It’s important that Asians and Asian Americans stand up to hate, share their stories, and create towards a better future. Through conversation and solidarity we can be stronger.

Victim of an Anti-Asian incident? Report here: https://stopaapihate.org/

Check out grassroot movements against Anti-Asian violence like: https://www.theycantburnusall.org/

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I enjoy writing about film/TV, travel, slice of life, language, Asian American issues, and other interests. Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment or message if you have any thoughts to share =).

Los Angeles, CA
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