OPINION: World leaders’ rhetoric to blame for increase in Asian hate crimes

The best way to combat global anti-Asian hate crimes is to amplify the voices of those affected and end the racist blame game world leaders like former President Donald Trump have played during the pandemic. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR/Gage Skidmore

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, China has been blamed for the virus by former President Donald Trump, leader of the German right-wing Alternative party Alice Weidel and many other world leaders, resulting in an increase in hate crimes against Asian people around the world. 

Anti-Asian violence has been a particularly pervasive issue in America the past year. The increase was highlighted after three Atlanta spas were attacked March 16 by an active shooter who killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. The Atlanta Police Department has not yet labeled the event a hate crime, but the intentions of the shooter are evident in his deliberate attack on Asian-owned spas. 

This horrific event in Atlanta is derivative of the racism Trump spewed to his constituents while in office. He continuously nicknamed COVID-19 racist terms like the “kung flu” and “the Chinese virus,” leading citizens to believe that Chinese people were to blame for the global pandemic.

“Kung flu, yeah. Kung flu,” Trump said at a Jan. 24, 2020 rally after an audience member shouted the term in response to the former president, who also referred to the virus as “Wuhan,” the city where the virus originated. 

News anchors with large influence were backing up the racist remarks of Trump and telling viewers to continue to use anti-Asian terms when discussing the pandemic. Tucker Carlson, a conservative Fox News show host who has an average nightly audience of 4.3 million viewers on his show “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” praised Trump in May for calling the virus the “Chinese virus.” 

Meghan McCain, co-host of the talk show “The View,” expressed on the show that she felt the racist nicknames for the virus were harmless in March 2020.

“I don’t have a problem with people calling it whatever they want,” said McCain. “It’s a deadly virus that did originate in Wuhan.”

The nicknames have obviously proven to be anything but harmless, though, due to the clear rise in racially motivated hate crimes which McCain apologized for aiding in Monday. 

In the U.S., the growth of Asian hate crimes has been rampant over the past year, with a 150% increase in 2020, according to a 2021 analysis by California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that brings awareness to Asian American and Pacific Islander assaults, recorded 3,795 self-reported incidents in 2020, 59 of which took place in Florida. 

The U.S. isn’t the only country that has experienced more anti-Asian hate crimes due to racist terminology surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Far-right leaders in France, Germany and Spain, like Weidel and a member of Spain’s Congress of Deputies Santiago Abascal, also tried to use the pandemic as an excuse to push xenophobia.

They attempted to close their borders to refugees from Asia in February 2020, according to The Guardian, despite the World Health Organization allowing borders to stay open at the time. 

In the beginning of the pandemic, many countries’ leaders and governments also began to direct the blame toward China. France and Thailand’s governments accused the Chinese government in February 2020 of mismanaging the original source of the outbreak. This led to global tensions between other countries and China and contributed to the rise in assaults and harassment toward Asian people. 

As a result of these prejudiced remarks and actions, anti-Asian hate crimes have increased around the world. 

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission found through a February 2021 survey of 1,904 people that 54% of Chinese respondents, or 82 participants, experienced racially motivated harassment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

There is no reason to believe that all Asian people are responsible for a virus that began spreading on an entirely different continent, nor is it rational to act spitefully or violently against anyone based on their race and ethnicity. A stop must be put to the increase of national, as well as global, anti-Asian hate crimes.

The recent surge in Asian-directed violence and the racism created by Trump and influential world leaders in the early months of the pandemic cannot be separated. World leaders need to stop attempting to pin the blame of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of a certain race or ethnicity and begin creating a sense of unity during this time of anguish. 

Developing this feeling of unity nationwide has been a goal of President Joe Biden that he reiterated during his inauguration speech Jan. 20, which he continues to push via putting pressure on Congress to pass a hate crime bill introduced March 11. The bill would speed up the process of reviewing COVID-19-related hate crimes and provide aid to state and local law enforcement agencies to respond and prevent local hate crimes across the country.

Those who have not been affected by anti-Asian hate crimes also need to begin standing up for Asian people by speaking out for them when they can’t. On an individual scale, organize local protests, have difficult conversations about race and racial issues with friends and family, and make sure those around you who are a part of marginalized groups have space to speak on any harassment they may face as the pandemic continues. 

Focusing more on long-term justice, using social media and reaching out to local representatives can lead to guaranteeing protections for Asian people in Florida and nationwide. Derogatory terms have evidently influenced the safety of many, so it will clearly make the world a better place to treat people with kindness rather than promote violence.