Effects of White Supremacy and Xenophobia on Asian Communities

Asian woman long hair wearing a mask in the city.

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Asian communities have been affected by white supremacy and xenophobia for a long time. As a result, Asian individuals are subject to increased mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and the severe psychological effects that victims of hate crimes often develop.

To stop this perpetuated harm on Asian communities, the underlying systems of white supremacy and xenophobia must be addressed by individuals and by society as a whole through sustained anti-racist efforts and education.

Negative Effects on Mental Health

One study published in 2020 in the American Journal of Criminal Justice explores the negative mental health impact on communities who are "othered," such as Asian Americans have been in American society—most recently due to COVID-19.

Othering Asian Communities

The process of othering occurs when a dominant racial group reinforces the idea that some members of society, in this case, Asian Americans, do not belong. It is rooted in racism, white supremacy, and xenophobia.

According to the 2020 report, "Hate crime may be used to 'other' minority racial/ethnic groups who are perceived as dangerous (i.e., belief that people of Asian descent are solely responsible for causing and spreading COVID-19)."

Psychological Effects of Hate Crimes

Hate crimes range from "microaggressions and verbal harassment to assault and other violent hate crimes." Victims of hate crimes are more likely to experience symptoms of psychological distress than victims of non-hate crimes. These symptoms include:

Complaints of white supremacy and xenophobia have often been met with gaslighting, silencing, and derailing; therefore, Asian folx may easily internalize these microaggressions as a poor reflection of themselves.

Hate Crimes Resulting From COVID-19

East Asians were publicly outcast from society, or "othered," in the wake of references to "the Chinese virus" by President Trump in tweets in March 2020.

According to the STOP AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) HATE Reporting Center, content analysis of 1,843 incidents yielded the following insights:

  • Virulent animosity towards Chinese Americans
  • Scapegoating of China for the spread of COVID-19
  • Anti-immigrant nationalism
  • Parroting of the term “Chinese virus”
  • Orientalist and racist depictions of China such as "dirty" and "diseased"

Irresponsible statements by those in positions of power resulted in incidents whereby East Asian folx reported no longer feeling safe following taunts, threats, and physical violence.

History of Systemic Racism Against Asian Communities

The increase in "othering" of East Asian folx due to COVID-19 is embedded in white supremacy and xenophobia, but this is not new to Asian communities.

Americans have a history of othering Asian communities, and as a result, Asian communities have suffered the harms of systemic racism. This goes as far back as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was passed in 1882 to prevent Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States for a period of 10 years.

Another notable historical example is the Japanese internment camps following the Pearl Harbor attacks. This history puts Asian folx at far greater risks of mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression in response to negative experiences fueled by white supremacy and xenophobia, especially during times of crisis.

Similar experiences of racism against Asian communities such as were seen as a result of COVID-19 were reported by South Asian Muslims and Sikhs after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Similar experiences of xenophobia against Asian folx during COVID-19 were reported during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Given that many Asian folx were born in this country, it is devastating to think of how often they are told to return to where they came from. Yet that is the reality of xenophobia and white supremacy, which can often be heightened in times of crisis.

For a thorough understanding of how systemic racism has impacted Asian communities, it is crucial to also consider the experiences of South Asians.

Bhagat Singh Thind

In 1922, Takao Ozawa, a Japanese-American man, was involved in a notable case on eligibility for American citizenship. Although he had resided in the United States for 20 years, the Supreme Court deemed him ineligible for American citizenship by relying on then-considered "scientific" criteria for race.

The same judge who issued this ruling presided over the case of Bhagat Singh Thind. Thind was an Indian-American writer who had served in the U.S. Army during World War I. He was considered ineligible for citizenship despite the ethnological classification system used to rule against Ozawa. The Supreme Court determined that rather than ancestry, whiteness was based on a "common understanding by unscientific men."

As these historical examples illustrate, by shifting criteria for who can and cannot be considered American based on what serves their agenda, systems at various levels of government have long been manipulated to be used as a tool of white supremacy and xenophobia to harm Asian communities.

How Do We Address It?

We must address white supremacy and xenophobia by identifying and denouncing them and outlining how they harm Asian communities.

Oppression Sustains Oppression

Unfortunately, in an attempt to survive white supremacy and xenophobia, Asian folx have often relied on conforming to model minority myths towards proximity to whiteness, sometimes at the expense of more marginalized groups.

White supremacy is often maintained as Asian folx accept that success requires them to ignore long-standing racial disparities and even sometimes resort to lateral oppression or anti-Blackness in an attempt to conform to these rigged systems.

Unfortunately, this only further entrenches the depths of white supremacy in the fabric of our society and oppresses more marginalized folx, as in the case of Asian medical professionals who are not critical enough of white supremacy and therefore may contribute to poor health outcomes of Black folx due to biases in care.

When Asian folx experience the mental health impacts of white supremacy and xenophobia, they can struggle to access the necessary treatment. Cultural norms portray help-seeking as a sign of weakness.

Forming Solidarity

As we develop a growing understanding of the need for such movements as Black Lives Matter and Idle No More in Black and Indigenous communities, some Asian folx are making strides at seeking solidarity with other marginalized groups to confront white supremacy, colonialism, and xenophobia.

In this way, Asian folx benefit from challenging white supremacy and xenophobia and the stigma of mental health issues for the sake of their well-being and that of other BIPOC communities that can often be similarly impacted by oppression.

This work also requires solidarity from those who benefit from these systems that harm Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. This is where anti-racism efforts are crucial to dismantling white supremacy and xenophobia.

A Word From Verywell

If you are new to understanding this history of white supremacy and xenophobia that harms Asian communities, this may be a good opportunity to learn from well-established activists like Ai-jen Poo, Darakshan Raja, and Lydia X.Z. Brown, who all speak about anti-Asian racism with an intersectional lens.

As long as you center the needs of Asian communities in your attempts at support, rather than your own feelings, you are off to a good start in providing much-needed assistance.

Since white supremacy and xenophobia can have such a negative mental health impact, it may be beneficial for Asian folx to connect with a culturally competent therapist or rely on informal community supports.

If those options still feel too vulnerable just yet, Asian folx can benefit from listening to mental health insights from such podcasts as Seen, Chai Chats, and Yellow Glitter. Even when working in solidarity with other BIPOC communities to dismantle white supremacy and xenophobia, Asian folx can benefit from mental health support.

Dismantling long-entrenched systems will never be easy work, but it can only be done with a willingness to invest in more equitable practices for Asian communities.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Krystal Jagoo
 Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice.