New data has revealed over the past year, the number of anti-Asian hate incidents — which can include shunning, slurs and physical attacks — is greater than previously reported. And a disproportionate number of attacks have been directed at women.
The research released by reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate on Tuesday revealed nearly 3,800 incidents were reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic. It’s a significantly higher number than last year's count of about 2,600 hate incidents nationwide over the span of five months. Women made up a far higher share of the reports, at 68 percent, compared to men, who made up 29 percent of respondents. The nonprofit does not report incidents to police.
Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University and the forum’s founder, told NBC Asian America that the coalescence of racism and sexism, including the stereotype that Asian women are meek and subservient, likely factors into this disparity.
“There is an intersectional dynamic going on that others may perceive both Asians and women and Asian women as easier targets,” he said.
The data, which includes incidents that occurred between March 19 of last year and Feb. 28 of this year, shows that roughly 503 incidents took place in 2021 alone. Verbal harassment and shunning were the most common types of discrimination, making up 68.1 percent and 20.5 percent of the reports respectively. The third most common category, physical assault, made up 11.1 percent of the total incidents. More than a third of incidents occurred at businesses, the primary site of discrimination, while a quarter took place in public streets.
According to the data, Asian women report hate incidents 2.3 times more than men. A further examination of the submitted reports showed that in many cases, the verbal harassment that women received reflected the very intersection of racism and sexism.
One Chinese American woman reported that a “man on the subway slapped my hands, threatened to throw his lighter at me, then called me a ‘c---- b----.’ He then said to ‘get the f--- out of NYC.’” Another woman, who’s Filipino American, reported that while in a Washington, D.C., metro station with her boyfriend, a man shouted "Chinese b----" at her, coughed at the couple and physically threatened them.
Jeung emphasized that women have always dealt with harassment from men and public safety issues more broadly. But the pandemic, he said, has provided another “excuse” for people to target Asian women.
“We've noticed that from the very beginning, it's been a real consistent pattern,” Jeung said. “Bullies attack who they think are vulnerable, and we see this in our elderly and youth populations.”
Jeung cautioned against describing the latest numbers as a sudden “surge” in hate incidents because many of the 2020 incidents were reported retroactively in 2021, according to the report, and there has always been a “clear” issue of underreporting in the community.
“We thought we had a lull or it seemed like there was a lull over the summer, but I think people were just reporting less and that it became sort of normalized,” he explained. “But now with increased attention, I think people are reporting again. I think that there's been a continued harassment of Asians and now we're continuing to see that reported.”
The wave of violence directed at Asian American seniors at the beginning of the year, particularly the graphic attacks that have been captured on video, have likely prompted more attention from both the community and mainstream media, Jeung said. And it’s galvanized a vocal response that’s likely led to more reporting.
While these attacks on elders have catalyzed calls for action, Jeung made a distinction between this particular violence, most of which has not been found to be explicitly racially motivated, and the racism those in the community have been facing due to the problematic link between the virus and Asian Americans.
“I think there are separate trends, the violence that we're seeing now and the racism we saw last year, but they are related,” Jeung said. “We're really careful to note that this violence against Asian Americans in high-crime neighborhoods has always been high. And so the combination of both the racism from last year and crimes against Asian elderly are now significant enough to get national attention.”
The scholar noted that this doesn’t negate the possibility of implicit bias in these attacks on elders, but he cautioned against grouping the two trends as one issue.
“That's the problem — people conflate it,” he said. “So decoupling them then helps diagnose different solutions.”
Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of demographic data and policy research nonprofit AAPI Data, previously also warned against defaulting to a “simplistic understanding of what’s going on,” adding that the violence cannot be neatly summed up by solely the heightened anti-Asian sentiment witnessed throughout the pandemic. He said a confluence of factors, including the effects of poverty and financial struggle exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as opportunity, could have played into it.
“There’s a complex variety of factors, but the fundamental reality is that there's an increase in the number of Asian Americans who feel unsafe,” he said.
Such issues have been elevated to the executive branch as President Joe Biden has addressed the issue of anti-Asian attacks. In addition to referencing the violence in his first national prime-time address Thursday night, he also signed a memorandum earlier this year that in part issued guidance on how the Justice Department should respond to the heightened number of anti-Asian bias incidents.
Jeung said addressing the root cause of the violence requires more education, more expanded civil rights protections and more restorative justice models. The memorandum — which focuses on hate incidents, rather than hate crimes — allows for a more holistic approach to combating racism against Asian Americans in public streets, transit, private businesses and other settings, he said.
"If you just narrowly focus on hate crimes, you only address a sliver of the racism that Asian Americans are experiencing," Jeung said. "Biden's memo that actually addresses hate incidents rather than hate crimes is actually helpful, because that gives us the opportunity to frame the issue comprehensively."