Unions Speak out On Rise in Violence against Asian Americans
Following a 150% increase in hate crimes, unions are standing with the Asian American community
One year ago, the world changed as many countries around the world shut down to protect their citizens from COVID-19. In the following twelve months, Asian Americans have faced increasing attacks as simple-minded people blame them for COVID-19.
These attacks have happened all over the country. Headlines from New York to San Francisco have reported increases in hate crimes against Asians and these attacks appear to have culminated in the Atlanta shooting spree that left eight people dead, including six Asian women. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander communities, in the past year there have been 3,800 reported hate crimes against Asians. In reality that number is likely much higher as many “smaller” incidents are thought to have gone unreported. These smaller incidents might be someone yelling “Kung Flu” at someone or yelling at them that they brought the “China Virus” to the United States.
“Well, we had a former president who really used a lot of terms like Chinese virus and kung flu, said Congresswoman Grace Meng in an interview with NPR. “When a leader who has a tremendous platform uses that sort of incendiary language, it can be really damaging and harmful.” Meng, who is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, represents Flushing Queens, a heavily Chinese neighborhood. Meng went on to say “Just last week, a young mom in the middle of the daylight was pushing her baby in a stroller. She reported that someone came up to her, yelled Chinese virus and spat in her direction and the baby's direction three times and then ran away.” Meng also urged people to begin speaking up against this hate.
Labor seems to have answered that call with many unions releasing statements in support of the AAPI community. “Asian American workers are a vital part of our labor movement and have shown an immense amount of dedication throughout this pandemic. We will not stand by while members of our family are targeted,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The murders in Atlanta are a horrific and disgusting part of the surging violence Asian Americans have faced over the past year, and reinforce that we all must continue to fight against anti-Asian racism in all forms.”
Clayola Brown, AFL-CIO civil rights director and A. Philip Randolph Institute President also released a statement where she said that she isn’t surprised by this violent reaction that came after “small racism” was pushed for the last year. “It’s not just a word, it’s not just a racial slur, it’s not just a joke about eyes or carrying disease. Those things build a larger system of racism where things like this happen.”
While the focus on the shootings has been on the victims being Asian, it is also important to remember that they were workers. They were working at the spas to make an honest living to support their families. Whether the shooter killed them because of racism or because he was, as the local Sheriff described it, having a bad day, these women ended up dying because of where they worked.
“We grieve for the eight workers who were killed in Atlanta,” said Monica Thammarath, President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO. “We take a moment to acknowledge that many of them were the aunties and immigrant women in our communities who face immense barriers to finding work and supporting their families. We also should not overlook the fact that these were Asian and Asian American women working in industries with few worker protections and oversight. It is misogyny and white supremacy that both empower white nationalists to acts of violence, and policymakers to exclude workers from protections when they are in industries disproportionately represented by women and immigrants.
While there is rightfully a lot of focus on racism against black and Hispanic communities, hate crimes against Asian Americans are something that is often not talked about, which may be the reason why attention is only being placed on it now after there was a 150% spike in hate crimes against the Asian American community. It is further perpetuated when people like Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds appear to downplay the racial component of the Atlanta shooting.
“Each and every one of us deserves to feel safe—in our own homes, our own communities, our own houses of worship and our own workplaces, regardless of our color or creed,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “But hatred directed at our Asian American friends, family and neighbors is at an all-time high, due in part to the misinformation and lies spread by the Trump administration since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Xenophobia exists. It’s something that far too many nonwhite people experience in America every day, and it is an ugly stain on our humanity. As the people who educate children, care for patients and help keep our communities safe, we must continue to teach tolerance and acceptance, and take a stand against the injustices that continue affecting the lives of so many people we love. We must fight hate through education.”