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'The Blame Game': New Hate Crime Report Tracks Rise in Anti-Asian Scapegoating

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a young Asian American woman wears a black mask that reads 'stop Asian hate'
Volunteer organizer Krystal Mak wears a mask that says 'Stop Asian Hate' during a student-led rally to show solidarity with Asian Americans in San Francisco on March 26, 2021. A new report by Stop AAPI Hate shines a light on rhetoric that scapegoats Asians and Asian Americans. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As the midterm elections approach, Stop AAPI Hate, a Bay Area-based advocacy group, is raising awareness about the dangers of scapegoating people in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

A new report, “The Blame Game: How Political Rhetoric Inflames Anti-Asian Scapegoating,” finds that of the tens of thousands of hate incidents tracked since 2020, one-fifth involved language that scapegoats.

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“What we set out to do was spotlight and call out harm, that irresponsible scapegoating rhetoric used by politicians during election season — where it's perceived to be the way to win, to blame Asian Americans,” said Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.

KQED morning host Brian Watt spoke with Choi about how this report illustrates an alarming trend of anti-AAPI violence over the past couple of years.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

BRIAN WATT: These findings show a rise in hate incidents since the pandemic began. Has that also contributed to a rise in political rhetoric, referring to scapegoating?

CYNTHIA CHOI: It has in the sense that the pandemic was racialized from the very beginning, when you had the former president refer to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” as the “Wuhan virus.” This automatically set off a pattern of blaming China and blaming Chinese [people] and therefore Asian Americans for this pandemic. This is what we mean by racial scapegoating.

This is not something new. It actually goes back generations.

It certainly does. It really does define our experience as Asians, as immigrants from the early times, our arrival being blamed for various breakouts like the bubonic plague. We saw this during World War II. We saw this post-9/11. In times of fear, in times of national concerns, we see that there is a history of painting an entire group — whether it's ethnic, racial or religious — as the enemy.

Certainly, this is a period of time in which we are seeing that, as we head into the midterms. We're deeply concerned about the racial scapegoating against Asian Americans, especially with regard to painting China as the enemy. Just a few weeks ago, the former president referred to former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao as Mitch McConnell's “China-loving wife, Coco Chow.” This type of rhetoric stokes racism and xenophobia and is ultimately harmful to our community.

So how are you thinking about combating the impact of rhetoric like that as people get ready to vote?

One thing that we have really felt was important for us to do as we started and launched Stop AAPI Hate is to educate the general public as to what is happening, why it's happening, what are the drivers of hate. And certainly it's important to understand this from a historical context and also that it's happening today.

What's really important to note is that Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing electorates. So we are Americans who are not only here to stay, we're also voters. As we head into the midterms, we're calling on candidates and politicians to be more responsible with their words. We are also warning the general public, including Asian Americans, to listen carefully. We deserve to have elected officials who represent all of us. This is a time for us to speak out.

What else do you recommend to address this issue, outside the realm of politics and voting?

Our long-term strategy is that we want to prevent this type of ignorance, of fear-mongering, by starting in our public education system — the greatest place of hope for us to inoculate our children and our future leaders to build empathy and understanding of one another rather than to fear.

We also need to continue to enforce our civil rights. We need to do this work in ways in which we're working across other communities that are also affected by this type of hate. This really needs to be work that unifies us, because if one group can be scapegoated and blamed, we're certainly all vulnerable to that. And so we strongly believe that we need to do this work together.

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