Verbal Abuse, Assault, Shunning: Coronavirus 'Hate' Tracker Now Includes More Than 1,400 Reports of Anti-Asian Racism
The following article was originally published April 9, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.
Story by Josie Huang
At a Trader Joe's in Culver City last month, Jeff Yang stood in the checkout line six feet apart from the other customers, lost in his phone. That's when an F-bomb came flying in his direction.
He glanced up to see another customer pass by, pull down her mask and cough towards him — the only Asian in line.
"I was shocked," said Yang, a journalist and author. "She was sending me a message along the lines of 'You're the one who caused this.'"
Days earlier in Eagle Rock, Paola Mardo was leaving a Filipino grocery with a mask on her face when she heard a woman say "China brought this virus here."
As Mardo neared the woman, she "literally jumped back and said, 'Oh my God, please don't give me the virus.'"
"I'm not even Chinese," said Mardo, who makes a podcast about the Filipino diaspora. "But we all look the same, I guess."
Both Yang and Mardo shared their stories on social media, leading to an online flood of condolences and jarring anecdotes from other Asian Americans (along with comments from haters).
And that could have been it. But both also reported the incidents to Stop AAPI Hate, a weeks-old online tool that's been tracking anti-Asian racism in an attempt to capture the scope of the problem.
Launched in mid-March by California advocacy organizations, the tracker has gotten more than 1,400 reports and counting.
Experiencing racism has been a common hallmark of the Asian American experience over the years, but the frequency and severity of the incidents taking place during the pandemic is hitting the highest levels in decades.
Verbal abuse, physical assault, shunning in public places, workplace discrimination and online abuse dominate the reports made to Stop AAPI Hate.
"What it tells community members is that they're not part of the fabric of America, that they are seen as subhuman," said Manjusha Kulkarni, head of the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council in Los Angeles, or A3PCON.
Kulkarni's group helped develop the tracker with the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University and Chinese for Affirmative Action in San Francisco. Reports can be submitted in eight languages, including Thai and Punjabi.
Kulkarni said the pandemic and stay-at-home orders are stressing everybody out. But Asian Americans also have to think about what could happen when they go out in public, especially women who, according to the Stop AAPI Hate data, are harassed at twice the rate of men, likely because they are seen as easier targets, Kulkarni said.
"In trying to meet their daily needs for themselves and their families they are getting attacked," she said.
The data shows reported run-ins with racism are happening across a range of settings, from LAX...
My family and I (4 of us) were wearing masks, trying (to) walk across the crosswalk from the parking structure. We were stopped by a driver, who blocked our path with his car, and we were called names and (he) was blaming us for spreading the virus and wearing masks.
....to a sidewalk in Mid-City:
While I was walking up the street I live on, a white male, 20s in appearance, notices me and picks up a cup of coffee—filled—from the street and flings it at me. The spill misses me by a few feet. He appears angry, proceeds to give me the middle finger, and calls me a racial slur ("chink") before walking away.
And in downtown L.A.:
A homeless man saw me less than 100 feet from my apartment building. He threw punches and tried to kick my dog, chased me back to my building screaming racial epithets about me being a "nasty bitch" and "go back to China."
YELLOW PERIL 2.0
Stop AAPI Hate was launched on March 18 — just as President Trump was ramping up his use of the phrase "Chinese virus."
State Assemblyman David Chiu, who has been promoting the online tracker as the head of the Legislature's Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, said anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic is reminiscent of the finger-pointing and discrimination seen in the eras of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American incarceration during World War II.
He added: "I think the closest historical example was when Chinese Americans in San Francisco were accused of spreading bubonic plague in the early 1900s — literally accused of being that yellow peril."
Roughly a third of the reports are from California, likely in part because it is home to the country's largest Asian American population and is where the Stop AAPI Hate portal was created.
But, Chiu said "that even within communities and states that we think of as progressive and tolerant, there is still an underlying level of racism and intolerance."
Last month Chiu and other members of the API Caucus sent a letter to Gov. Newsom asking that state agencies such as the Department of Public Health issue a guideline "asking Californians to combat stereotyping or bullying of groups of people due to the coronavirus."
DATA IS POWER
None of that has happened yet.
That's why it's important to report racist incidents to law enforcement or to online trackers like Stop AAPI Hate, said Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.
"The bottom line here is, we can't do anything about these acts of COVID-related hate and other kinds of hate, unless we know about it," Toma said.
Most of the incidents being reported to Stop AAPI Hate may not meet the definition of a hate crime, but there could be other remedies.
Toma said businesses that show a pattern of not stopping the harassment of Asian American customers on their premises, for example, could be held liable under civil rights laws.
Schools can also be pressured to do a better job protecting students from racism, Toma said.
He pointed to a North Hollywood middle school where a teacher in February allegedly made an Asian American boy go to the nurse for a cough even though he was not sick. It is the same school, Toma said, where another Asian American student was beat up and taunted over the coronavirus that same month.
Toma said that prompted him and A3PCON to set up a meeting between the school district and the family of the bullied boy, who had been hit in the head so hard he had to get checked out in the hospital.
"We don't want people to simply say, 'Oh my God, I guess we're living in a different world. Oh well,'" Toma said. "We need to not let this spread."
WHAT IF IT HAPPENS TO YOU
Aside from Stop AAPI Hate, Angelenos can also report incidents to the county's 2-1-1 social services hotline.
Other advocacy organizations are also tracking hate incidents, including the Washington, D.C.-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice and The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York.
And she thinks back to whether she would have acted differently in her encounter with the "virus" woman in Eagle Rock.
"I got messages from people like, 'Oh, you should have said this,'" Mardo said. "But I think for me, it's not as easy to do that. She was much bigger than me."
Mardo's wish is that her parents won't ever have to be in the same situation. Meanwhile, Jeff Yang, who was coughed on in the grocery store, wonders how the pandemic is affecting Asian American kids, including his own.
"For Asian American kids, that fear of being labeled as a bringer of disease, as unclean, as somehow dangerous — that's something which I really worry about," Yang said. "We won't know what the impact on our kids will be until they're older."