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Anti-Asian bias incident reports have continued to surge, new research shows

Reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate collected 9,081 anti-Asian incidents during the pandemic, with one-fourth of those incidents reported in recent months.
Image: Across The U.S., Rallies Call For An End To Anti-Asian Violence
Ryan Lee demonstrates at the 'Stop Asian Hate March and Rally' in Koreatown in Los Angeles, on March 27, 2021.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Reports of anti-Asian incidents experienced a continued rise in recent months, new research shows.

Reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate released national data on anti-Asian bias incidents Thursday, revealing that over the course of roughly 15 months during the pandemic, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders reported more than 9,081 incidents. About one-fourth of those incidents were reported from April to June 2021, the report said.

“It is a combination of both people coming out of a pandemic and interacting more with the public,” Russell Jeung, co-founder of the organization and professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, told NBC Asian America. “And secondly, people know about [Stop AAPI Hate] more and are reporting more and are wanting the racism to stop.”

According to the report, verbal harassment made up 64 percent of the total incidents reported while shunning, the next-largest share, made up almost 17 percent. Physical assault was the third-largest category, constituting almost 14 percent of all incidents. As seen in previous Stop AAPI Hate reports, these incidents most commonly occurred on public streets, the top site of anti-Asian hate at almost 32 percent. Businesses followed closely behind at just over 30 percent.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder of AAPI Data, a policy and research nonprofit group, warned that while the increase in reports may appear significant, the uptick does not necessarily translate to the same percentage increase in actual incidents.

“We need different types of data collection to be able to understand if there are changes, especially increases over time, how much of it is changes due to increased awareness or increased comfort in terms of reporting versus an increase based on other factors like greater exposure to risk based on reopening,” he said.

A previous survey from AAPI Data suggests the stats shown in the new report are just the “tip of the iceberg,” Ramakrishnan explained. The online survey, which included responses from more than 16,000 people of all major races at the end of March, revealed that upward of 2 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have experienced hate incidents since the pandemic began. And underreporting continues to be an issue.

AAPI Data’s survey showed that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were the least likely to report hate incidents compared to other groups. When asked how comfortable they would be reporting a hate crime to law enforcement authorities, just 30 percent of Asian Americans said they were “very comfortable” doing so. A slightly higher share, 36 percent, of Pacific Islanders responded similarly. In comparison, 54 percent of white respondents reported being comfortable with reporting to law enforcement, by far the highest percentage.

While many Asian Americans have attributed the heightened anti-Asian bias to former President Donald Trump’s harmful rhetoric in the past, the report shows that anti-Asian bias is an enduring issue that continues to thrive under the Biden administration. Among the most concerning findings in the report, Jeung said, was the invocation of anti-China rhetoric. In more than 48 percent of all hate incidents, anti-China and/or anti-immigrant rhetoric was included in at least one hateful statement.

Though the rhetoric around the coronavirus and the associations to China have shifted dramatically since the previous administration, Jeung said there continues to be "political rhetoric and policies that are strongly anti-China."

Politicians from both parties in the Senate passed what has become known as the “anti-China” bill, pouring investment into scientific research and technological innovation in an effort to dominate the race in tech advancements. Without such investment, “it is only a matter of time before the global competitors of the United States overtake the United States in terms of technological primacy,” the legislation warns.

A Pew Research Center poll found echoes of the belief that China is a perceived threat, revealing that 55 percent of respondents supported limiting Chinese students' study in the U.S. Another 53 percent said it’s more important to “get tougher with China on economic issues” than it is to “build a strong relationship” with Beijing on such matters. With approval ratings of the country at an all-time low, Jeung said, the “yellow peril fears — that’s been resurrected.”

Another potential concern, Jeung noted, is the public’s attitude toward the investigation into the virus’ origins. President Joe Biden had ordered intelligence agencies to double down on their efforts to examine the source, including the controversial theory that it could have come from a lab accident in Wuhan, China. With intelligence officials slated to present the results of their investigation into the virus’ origins, Jeung said he suspects attitudes toward the country could further sour.

“It’s why we began to track red-baiting incidents: We are concerned about this yellow peril rhetoric, where China's sort of existential threat to the U.S.” Jeung said. “We want the administration to balance any statement against the Chinese government with pause to stop racism and also to address U.S.-China policies in a constructive way.”

Ramakrishnan said such targeted discrimination toward Asian American communities due to certain geopolitical tensions has been observed in the past, reflected after 9/11, during World War II and the forced Japanese American incarceration, and in the killing of Vincent Chin in 1982.

“Whether perceived or real, foreign policy threats often end up hurting Asian American communities because of the perpetual foreigner stereotype,” Ramakrishnan said. “Regardless of what generation we're talking about, different Asian Americans over time have been targeted, both through official actions as well as vigilante violence. That remains a significant concern.”

There are some discrepancies in findings between the Stop AAPI Hate results and other surveys. For example, over a quarter of Asian Americans reported having experienced hate incidents at some point in their lives and a similar percentage of Pacific Islanders said the same, according to the AAPI Data survey. But these results aren’t quite mirrored in the new Stop AAPI Hate report, showing the need for more robust data collection across all reporting mechanisms.

“There's still a lot more work to do to make sure that our reporting systems reach various parts of our community,” Ramakrishnan said.