Effects of White Supremacy and Xenophobia on Asian Communities

Asian communities have been affected by white supremacy and xenophobia for a long time. However, COVID-19 has brought about a surge in hate crimes against East Asian folx. 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.

In order 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 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 as a result of 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 superiority, and xenophobia. According to the 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

As a result of COVID-19, Asian Americans have been targets of hate crimes, "ranging from microaggressions and verbal harassment to assault and other violent hate crimes." In addition, it's been found that victims of hate crimes experience harsher 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 have been publicly outcasted 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”, and Orientalist and racist depictions of China as dirty, diseased, etc. 

In this way, irresponsible statements by those in positions of power have resulted in incidents whereby East Asian folx report 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.

Our nation has 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 ten years.

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

Similar experiences of racism against Asian communities such as we're seeing as a result of COVID-19 have been reported by South Asian Muslims and Sikhs, especially after 9/11.

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

Given how long many Asian folx have been 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

Bhagat Singh Thind was an Indian-American writer who had served in the U.S. Army during World War I; he was involved in a notable case on eligibility for American citizenship in the 1920s. He was considered ineligible for citizenship based on a "common understanding by unscientific men" by the Supreme Court. 

Around this same time period and in stark contrast to this, the same judge who had issued this ruling had determined that Takao Ozawa, a Japanese-American man, was ineligible for American citizenship by relying on then-considered "scientific criteria" for race. 

As these historical examples illustrate, by deeming what is and is not "scientific" based on what serves their agenda, American 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?

It's always been necessary: we must address white supremacy and xenophobia by identifying and denouncing them, and outlining how they harm Asian communities.

Oppression Sustaining Oppression

Given how the American educational system reinforces white supremacy, Asian folx have often come to understand success comes at the expense of complicity with such bigotry, in an attempt to provide for themselves and their families.

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 such biases in care.

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

Forming Solidarity

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

In this way, Asian folx would benefit from challenging both white supremacy and xenophobia as well as the stigma of mental illness for the sake of their wellbeing and 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, so this is where anti-racism efforts are crucial to dismantling white supremacy and xenophobia.

A Word From Verywell

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. Especially 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 Asian activists like Ai-jen Poo, Darakshan Raja, and Lydia X.Z. Brown.

Since white supremacy and xenophobia can have such a negative mental health impact, especially during COVID-19, 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 Redefining. Even when working in solidarity with other BIPOC communities to dismantle white supremacy and xenophobia, Asian folx would 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.

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Article Sources
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