The Truth Behind Racist Attacks On Asian-Americans

Recently the incidences of racist attacks on Asians in the U.S. have noticeably increased. Why has this happened? Who is responsible?

The mainstream media’s narrative is that President Trump’s using the terms “China virus,” “Wuhan virus,” and “kung-flu,” while suggesting China made and spread the coronavirus, generated hatred of Asians. This, it was said, caused increases in assaults against Asians.

There are flaws in this narrative. It can be questioned to what degree the Chinese, the largest group of crime victims, were upset because of what President Trump said. Did they complain? Certainly not to any great extent as many liked the former president.

In 2017, Trump traveled to China and made a hit there. His grandchildren went with him and spoke to President Xi and the First Lady in Chinese, which they had been speaking at home for some time. They even recited Chinese poems. This was on television and went viral in China. Locals opined that Chinese people perceived that President Trump fancied China and Chinese more than any other U.S. leader ever had.

Meanwhile, studies showed that Americans who espouse antipathy toward the Chinese were not influenced significantly by President Trump’s words. According to a Pew Research Center poll, only 14 percent of respondents connect the coronavirus to racial incidents in the U.S.

In counterpoint, American hostility toward Chinese Americans was obviously stirred by candidate Joe Biden calling President Xi a “thug” during the campaign and stating that Xi did not have a “democratic bone” in his body.

After Joe Biden became president, the U.S. government’s and media’s rhetoric about China became more hostile than it had been under President Trump. President Biden and his aides railed against China’s authoritarian system, President Xi ending term limits, China’s human rights abuses (especially against Uyghurs), and its quashing freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. Much more was said about China’s efforts to destroy the Western liberal world order and dominate global financial matters than during the Trump presidency.

When President Biden addressed the issue of racist attacks on Asian-Americans, he declared a main cause was Shite supremacy. Contradicting this view, Ying Ma, a Chinese American living in Oakland, California, wrote a book entitled Chinese Girl in the Ghetto in which she described many incidences of racist attacks on local Chinese over an extended period. She noted that proportional to their percentage of the U.S. population Whites were less likely to be perpetrators; other minorities were more likely.

Her data likewise confirms overwhelmingly the fact that, by a large margin, most of the racist incidences against Asian-Americans occurred in Democrat-controlled cities and states—ninety-five percent plus. Most Chinese and other Asian-Americans, of course, live in Democrat districts. But still, the numbers show disproportionality. The data also show there have been many more incidents in California and New York (Democrat-run states), than in Texas (a Republican state), the three states where more Asian-Americans live.

In addition, the huge spike in the number of incidences in March 2021, two months after Joe Biden became president, insinuates he was more responsible for the problem than President Trump. The incidences of racial attacks on Asians increased a whopping 164 percent in the first quarter of 2021.

What then, may we ask, are the real or not-often-cited causes of racial assaults against Asian Americans?

One reason is jealousy. Asian-Americans have higher levels of education and better incomes than other Americans, both by significant margins. They also register higher numbers on the lists of “people of attainments” in the sciences, business, and elsewhere. A significant number have become founders, presidents, and chief executive officers of major companies. Many are millionaires. Republicans, who believe in hard work and meritocracy, support them. Democrats fancy egalitarianism.

Image: Attack on an elderly Asian man. YouTube screen grab.

Another matter is the admission policies in America’s colleges and universities, especially the prestigious ones, that patently discriminate against Asians. Asians must offer much higher SAT and GRE scores than others. These are used to operationalize this racial bias. In fact, to many Asians and Asian-Americans, this formalizes and legitimizes racism and explains racist attacks on Asian-Americans. If racism by colleges and universities is acceptable, why isn’t racism in other ways?

Democrats support affirmative action and using quotas to restrict the number of Asians in American colleges and universities. Conservatives favor performance. Last year, Asian students attending Harvard sued the school over racial bias in admissions.  President Trump supported the students. Just recently, the case has gone to the Supreme Court.

A similar suit was filed against Yale University. President Biden’s justice department refused to take the case.

Asian-Americans have also taken umbrage at many colleges and universities limiting or even excluding national tests used for admission decisions as anti-Asian because Asians do better on them. Recently Asian-Americans were incensed to hear that the California education system is debating dropping math courses from various curricula because Asian students do so well on the subject.

In any event, racist attacks on Asian-Americans led President Biden to issue an executive order denouncing the incidences almost as soon as he became president. But nothing of consequence happened. In March, after a big spike in cases, the Biden administration proposed formal legislation to deal with the problem.

Congress responded. The bill, called “Condemning all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19,” passed Congress in May. It stressed the fact anti-Asian American racist incidents increased with the rise of the coronavirus in the U.S. It cited the fact elderly Asian-Americans were targeted (though it did not mention women were also). It condemned tying the virus to China with China or Chinese used in its various names. It mentioned Asian-American businesses being targeted and even noted that there are 2 million Asian-American businesses that generate a whopping $700 billion in annual revenue and employ millions of workers, though it did not focus on where they were located or when they were damaged or destroyed.

The bill cited taking action. But this amounted to collecting data and coordinating assessments between and among government agencies. The bill cited prosecution but gave no details as to how this would be accomplished or even what agencies of government would be in charge.

Critics called the bill biased and portrayed it as bureaucratic, toothless, and suggested it will have little impact. That, of course, remains to be seen. In any event, subsequent polls recorded that most Asians did not think they would gain influence with the new president.

In January this year, following attacks on Asians in New York and San Francisco, the Asian communities, led by Chinese Americans, protested. Some of the biggest protests in New York followed the death of Michelle Go, an American-born Asian woman working in New York. An assailant pushed her in front of an oncoming subway train. The police report mentioned only that the perpetrator was mentally deranged.

In San Francisco, after vicious racist attacks on several Asian-Americans, Asians gathered to protest. They demanded more police. The city promised to hire 200 more but that merely replaced those recently leaving the force. Asians complained that the city prosecutor and other high officials who had supported defunding the police did not seek to prosecute. At the time it was reported that anti-Asian crimes had spiked a whopping 457 percent in 2021 under President Biden.

In any case, the tsunami-like rise of racist comments and untoward actions toward Asian-Americans and even killings constitute serious problems that deserve attention, objective assessments, and real action.

John F. Copper is the Stanley J. Buckman Professor (emeritus) of International Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of more than thirty-five books on Asia and U.S.-Asian policy.

If you experience technical problems, please write to