The Misleading Narrative about Anti-Asian Racism

People attend a vigil in solidarity with the Asian-American community in Philadelphia, Pa., March 17, 2021. (Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters)
The Left deceptively uses data and ignores its own actions in an attempt to incite a politically useful panic.

By now, we’re pretty used to media outlets and left-wing politicians focusing on racism and bigotry as the driving forces of disparity and injustice in America. But in the last few weeks, we have seen an almost-total shift in focus from the racism against African Americans and Hispanics, a familiar subject of coverage, to coverage of racism against a different minority group: Asian Americans. A recent Atlanta shooting in which a white male killed several Asian Americans has served to reinforce this narrative. But while it is true that Asian Americans have faced prejudice in the United States, and still do, the narrative being pushed of suddenly resurgent anti-Asian sentiment is highly misleading.  

Asian Americans have undoubtedly been the target of hatred ever since they came to the U.S. Chinese were among the earliest immigrants from this group to come to North America, largely serving as laborers in the Western U.S. They were, at best, treated as indentured servants; at worst, almost like slaves. Japanese and other far eastern Asian groups slowly arrived in the following decades, with similar results. South Asians, including Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, didn’t start arriving in significant numbers until the 1960s. Their immigration was quite different, because it was more dependent on higher education than on labor needs. Each group had to face its own unique threats from racism, however. For example, after 9/11, many South Asian individuals (myself included) faced targeting as potential terrorist threats, because we ‘looked’ like the hijackers. In recent years, there has been clear evidence of targeting of other groups, including Sikhs and Koreans.

It’s worth remembering, as we discuss this, that the term “Asian Americans” fails to capture the variety it is meant to describe. Even the U.S. Census Bureau has had trouble accurately defining it. Neither race, religion, nor geography clearly delineates what it means to be Asian American. Much of the Middle East is exempt from the broad definition, as is the entire eastern two-thirds of Russia, which is part of Asia. The definition has somehow been limited to nationalities and racial groups in Asia that reside south of the current Russian state, and East of Iran. And even this definition raises questions. How, for example, are China (with a population of 1.5 billion) and India (population 1.2 billion) included in a single subset of definitions of race, while Native American/American Indians as well as Pacific/Hawaiian Islanders both have their own individual subset, with a much smaller population for each? Indeed, India alone has more linguistic and ethnic diversity than all of Europe.

Even with this history of prejudice, and even with all the groups contained within the “Asian-American” demographic, the contemporary evidence that Asian Americans specifically are being targeted at a greater rate than other minorities remains unproven. The recent shift in narratives began with a study the media pounced on from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism. It studied 16 U.S. cities and concluded that Asian Americans reported 150 percent more crimes in the last year than in prior years. But the numbers are so small as to be statistically meaningless. San Diego, for example, saw a grand total of one hate crime in 2020, without any in 2019. Large cities such as Chicago, Phoenix, and Houston had similar numbers. In fact, of the 122 total anti-Asian hate crime cases in 2020, 28 came from New York City, 15 from Los Angeles, and 14 from Boston. A credible or honest researcher would consider this more of a problem specific to those large urban centers than a nationwide problem. But such intellectual integrity is lacking among journalists.

Another source for this trend is Stop AAPI Hate, an Asian-American action group. The group says it recorded 3,795 ‘incidents of hate’ during the COVID pandemic. It counted 68.1 percent of those as verbal harassment, and 20.5 percent of them as ‘shunning.’ The problem, of course, is there is no historical baseline data. We have no significant evidence that there has been an interval increase in these acts after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, although the media have assumed exactly that fact.

The mainstream media have not shown any real level of skepticism or professionalism when investigating these issues. On March 16, a 21-year-old white man entered several spas and massage parlors in metro Atlanta and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. The media instantly reported that this was likely an act of racism against Asians. However, neither local police, nor President Biden’s own FBI, have shown any evidence of such racist intent. So, has CNN or MSNBC issued a correction? Not at all. In fact, the narrative has been accelerating, with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosting a town hall in Atlanta late last week to fight the scourge of racist attacks . . . that remains unproven by even their own administration.

This is not to deny that racism and hatred toward Asian Americans is a persistent concern. Just as the groups encompassing the overall definition of Asian Americans in the United States are broad and diverse, so are the types of attacks these groups are now facing. Whether there has or has not been a short-term increase in these acts doesn’t change the reality that there was always prejudice against Asian groups. The problem, however, has been that the acts themselves are not as predictable as many think, and the harassers’ identities are, to say the very least, inconvenient for the narrative being pushed on the country today.

White supremacists, who are universally despised for their philosophy of hatred, are an easy target for trying to solve racism and violence. However, the data don’t support blaming them for the vast majority of crimes against Asians. FBI statistics show consistently over the decades that young African-American males are far more likely to be the culprits of these hate crimes than whites, Hispanics, or other groups. As Robert Cherry wrote in the Spectator:

Using 2019 FBI statistics — the most recently available data — I computed black and white perpetrators of hate crimes as a percentage of men 18 to 44 years old in their populations. The black rate was 40 percent, 76 percent and 303 percent higher than the white rate for hate crimes against the Asian/Pacific Island, Latino and LGBTQ communities respectively. Even more troubling, black rates for hate-crime assaults were 94 percent higher while for property destruction and vandalism, they were 14 percent lower than white rates.

White supremacists are a problem, but more so with property damage than with violent attacks. On the other hand, bodily attacks on Asian Americans are far more likely to be perpetrated by members of other minority groups. As a 2021 study in the American Journal of Criminal Justice put it:

Findings of this study, however, also provide support to the minority-specific model, which assumes that hate crimes against different racial minority groups are likely to show significant differences. First, the race of offenders differs significantly across hate crimes against Asian Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics. Specifically, hate crimes against Asian Americans are more likely than hate crimes against either African Americans or Hispanics to be committed by non-White offenders. This finding may be attributed to animosity toward the “model minority” from other minority groups.

Again, this doesn’t prove or disprove the thesis that hate crimes are increasing against Asian Americans, nor does it dismiss the need for dialogue and communication. But it is useful for the next steps. For example, Asian Americans are more likely to be victims of hate crimes committed by strangers than African Americans and Hispanics. This changes how we must respond to these crimes. If our response is to target anonymous white bigots, when they may not represent the majority of those committing these crimes, we will obviously fail to achieve our goals.

The suggestion by the above study that the “model minority” stereotype potentially causes more violence and antipathy is worth considering. Asians as a group have excelled economically, academically, and politically in the U.S., most particularly among the Indian-American community, which is currently the wealthiest minority group in America. The study found that Asian Americans are more likely to be the target of hate crimes in educational environments.

Yet noticeably absent from the current media narrative is any exploration of institutional or personal discrimination against Asian Americans in left-wing environments, or of its possible ramifications. Universities have long been allowed to practice a form of ‘reverse discrimination’ against many Asian groups. For years, whites have argued that affirmative-action policies were unfair to them. Their results in courts have been mixed. Asian Americans recently made the same case, in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. The SFFA filed a federal lawsuit against Harvard University, claiming that the school imposes soft racial quotas purposely structured to restrict admission of Asian- American students. The plaintiffs demonstrated that Harvard consistently ranks Asians lower in vague, subjective traits such as personality, likability, and kindness, with little to no evidence to support the ratings. Experts testified that the Asian-American students with the exact same test scores and grades would have a marginally lower chance of being admitted to Harvard than their white fellow students, and would have been upwards of 95 percent less likely to be admitted compared with African-American applicants. A leaked document from an internal university investigation showed Harvard consistently penalized Asian-American students.

Ultimately Harvard successfully convinced the First Circuit Court of Appeals that its policy was legal and constitutional. What Harvard did here looks to many like a purposeful effort by the educated classes to keep Asian-Americans numbers to a minimum at elite institutions, regardless of what Harvard and other members of the liberal intelligentsia have long said concerning the worthiness of diversity as a goal in and of itself. If the media narrative about resurgent anti-Asian prejudice were honest, it would have at least touched upon this hypocritical instance of discrimination in our elite institutions. But that is less politically convenient, as those are largely left-wing environments.

Diversity is an honorable and legitimate goal for a modern society. But emphasizing it unevenly, or to the exclusion of what unites us, can have pernicious effects. Indeed, we can only wonder what repercussions such inconsistent and dangerous policies might have in society. The government’s focus on racial characteristics and backgrounds, instead of economic ones, provides an incentive and rationale for certain groups to attack others, instead of providing a cohesive economic group mentality that wants to try to raise all boats, regardless of race.

Two years ago, liberals tried to blame Trump and ‘white supremacists’ for anti-Semitic attacks against Orthodox Jews, predominantly in New York City. Only later did we learn that these crimes were mostly perpetrated by other minorities. The same appears to be occurring now with racial incidents against Asian Americans. In Atlanta, a horrific murder spree was insinuated, without evidence, to be caused by racism. Time and again, we use knee-jerk reactions, instead of evidence and data, to determine the status of racism in our society. It is no wonder that time and again, we scream for solutions, but never see any improvement.

If we are really interested in moving forward to a more just, multicultural society, we must make policies based on evidence and data, not emotion and reflex. Politicians, journalists, and others who immediately claim an act of violence is racism, without spending any time being skeptical, are doing the nation a great disservice. There is no hope to face the irrational reality of racism if our response denies reality, and is also irrational in turn.


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