Story at a glance

  • Businesses are the most common setting for attacks.
  • Most Asian American respondents report being verbally assaulted.
  • Report author Russell Jeung says these numbers are “just a tip of the iceberg.”

An incident database analyzing almost 700 reports of discrimination against Asian Americans reveals surprising trends in peoples' responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cited by Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.) on MSNBC, the report, a collaborative effort between the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council and the organization Chinese for Affirmative Action, launched a survey to document “incidents of hate.”

Originally meant to cover California’s Asian American population, the survey has garnered responses from across the nation, and even from abroad. 

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“We focused this to be a California statewide reporting site, not a national one, but then people all around the nation began to report,” Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, told The Hill. 

“The fact that we didn’t publicize but we got such wide responses reflects how much people want to voice concerns and share their experiences,” he confirmed. 

Within these experiences, some trends emerge. 

The most popular locations for harassment against Asian Americans due to the coronavirus epidemic are businesses, with 47 percent of respondents reporting being at a shop or public setting when the attack occurred. 

Regarding mediums of assault, verbal harassment composes more than half of assaults, with 67.3 percent saying this was the form of attack. As the survey became more popular and made rounds on the internet, Jeung noted that they have had to add response fields to accurately document the types of attacks. 

The option of attacks involving spitting and coughing, for example, was added in retrospect as a category with multiple reports surfacing. 

This is a common type of hateful attack, as is shunning. Jeung says that in this survey, shunning is defined as when someone is intentionally avoiding an individual due to their Asian race or ethnicity. Some 23.5 percent reported discriminatory action in the form of being shunned. 

“It’s fight or flight responses, and the flight, avoidance, was pretty common,” Jeung explained. 

Jeung also noted that the survey will likely need to be updated with a possible category to be vandalism. He believes that as stay-at-home orders become more prominent, there will be less in-person confrontation, but the hate will still be there. 

The most popular rationale for discrimination was race, with 89.5 percent of respondents saying they felt targeted due to their Asian heritage. Ethnicity is the second most popular reason for harassment, where people felt they were being targeted specifically because they were Chinese. 

While the virus originated in Wuhan, China, and President Trump has used the term ‘Chinese virus’ to describe COVID-19, many different Asian Americans have felt the blowback, despite not necessarily being Chinese. 

The data largely supports this; when asking the responder of their ethnicity, 38.5 percent of victims identify as Chinese. The second highest ethnicity to be targeted was Korean, followed by Vietnamese, representing 16.5 percent and 7 percent of respondents respectively. 

Listed in the same category was the descriptor simply described as “Asian.” Some 12.8 percent of victims listed this as their ethnicity, despite the U.S. Census Bureau defining Asian as a race. 

The survey also highlighted more female respondents than male. Out of all the victims polled, 73.6 percent were women. 

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Jeung says this is a notable trend. “People are using coronavirus as an excuse to harass Asian women,” he said. “It’s just really insidious.” Jeung also chalked this staggering figure up to the fact that women are more likely to be harassed in general. 

While the discrimination report highlights important emerging trends in harassment, Jeung insists the data is not representative of actual figures. 

The report was initially geared toward Californians, and was therefore not weighed by factors that could improperly influence the data. It is therefore not representative of actual numbers. 

Still, Jeung believes that the responses do indicate burgeoning trends of hate crimes. “These numbers are just a tip of the iceberg.”

California, for example, registered the highest number of harassment incidents, with 31.8 percent having been victimized in California. New York was next, holding 12.9 percent of recorded attacks. 

Since these numbers were not controlled by population or another factor, however, the data is not proportional.

One silver lining found in the data is that, while researchers were averaging about 100 incident reports per day, crime has dropped under stay-at-home mandates. 

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This doesn’t mean Asian American communities are out of the woods yet. 

Jeung said that “As we have less interpersonal interaction...I think the hatred will increase, but the expression of that will differ.”

To help combat the violence against Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S Jeung highly recommends reporting attacks to authorities and developing a collective voice. 

“Express to the press and to the police and to your elected officials what’s going on,” he said. 


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Published on Apr 02, 2020