Stop AAPI Hate Midterm Report: Political Scapegoating Harming Asians

The report finds similarities between the language used in hate incidents and the inflammatory anti-Chinese rhetoric used by political candidates and elected officials

October 12, 2022 — Today, Stop AAPI Hate released a new report, The Blame Game: How Political Rhetoric Inflames Anti-Asian Scapegoating, which analyzes the harms of scapegoating on Asian and Asian American communities. Racial scapegoating – the act of unfairly blaming communities of color for societal problems – is a political strategy that has been used throughout our country’s history, often at a heightened level around elections by candidates seeking to rile up voters.

“As we head toward the midterm elections, Stop AAPI Hate is deeply concerned about racial scapegoating of Asian Americans,” said co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance Manjusha Kulkarni. “People of color should be able to approach elections without fear that they will be targeted because candidates rely on drumming up fear and pointing blame to rile their base.” 

With the midterm elections underway, Stop AAPI Hate has released The Blame Game to spotlight how political rhetoric has been consistently employed, over decades, to hurt Asian communities. At present, there is an emphasis on anti-Chinese rhetoric, which results in the targeting of Asian Americans, including those who are not of Chinese descent. 

“Elected officials are charged with protecting all Americans, including Asian Americans,” said co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action Cynthia Choi. “No matter what their policies are toward China or any foreign country, they are responsible for their words and the harm that extreme and inflammatory language is causing Asian communities here in the United States.”  

“Scapegoating rhetoric poses particular harm for communities of color,” said co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University Russell Jeung. “Because Asian Americans are not often seen as ‘real’ Americans who belong here, when politicians target Asian countries, it leads to harm of Asian Americans that doesn’t happen with European countries.”

The report finds that perpetrators of hate incidents toward Asians and Asian Americans are repeating rhetoric they hear from candidates and elected officials blaming China for public health crises, for economic downturns and for national security concerns. This trend becomes apparent when comparing hate incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate with inflammatory language recently used by politicians: 

Public Health Scapegoating: At the start of the pandemic, President Trump and his party used racist rhetoric on Twitter to place blame on the Chinese for the start and spread of COVID-19. Stop AAPI Hate has since received over 2,000 incidents that mimicked this language: 

  • I was on the uptown 6 train between Grand Central and 23rd St. A man said to me, “Don’t stand so close. You brought COVID into this country… I will drag you, your c—k husband, and your kids off the train and kill you.” (New York, NY)

National Security Scapegoating: Several politicians have engaged in rhetoric that names the Chinese Communist Party as a national security threat for espionage. In June 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed two state bills to address perceived Chinese Communist Party espionage in businesses and higher education. Stop AAPI Hate has received reports of nearly 100 incidents that included similar language:

  • Cashier at a retail store shared that she suspected that her neighbor who happens to be a postdoctoral Asian male engineer was secretly a “5G China Spy.” (La Jolla, CA)

Economic Scapegoating: Both parties engage in rhetoric that paints China as an economic threat to America’s existence. In Ohio, for example, Tim Ryan, a Democrat, presented China as the singular threat to the American economy and the country’s existence in his “One Word” campaign ad. Stop AAPI Hate has received reports of incidents where Asian Americans were threatened with violence, accused of “stealing jobs and sending U.S. dollars back to China”, and harassed to “go back to China”

  • Getting cash from an ATM. Man came up behind me and yelled “Go back to China. Stop taking our jobs.” (Ann Arbor, MI)

As part of The Blame Game’s release, Stop AAPI Hate co-founders were joined by Representatives Judy Chu and Grace Meng, and Executive Director of AAPI Civic Engagement Fund EunSook Lee at a press conference today to discuss how candidates can engage in discussions about foreign countries and communities of color without harming the people they are intending to represent. The speakers also laid out recommendations for candidates, elected officials and voters. See a recording of the press conference here

Representative Judy Chu said, “There are concrete reasons to criticize specific actions of the Chinese Communist Party but too often, my colleagues use xenophobic, inflammatory language that fuels violence against Asian Americans. We in CAPAC have continued to provide guidance on how to ensure that valid concerns about our relationship with the Chinese government are not wrapped up in narratives that scapegoat Chinese American communities and breed further discrimination. In order to stop anti-Asian hate, we can and must do better.”

Representative Grace Meng said, “Over the past few years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the dangers associated with racially based narratives. The former President’s use of terms like ‘kung-flu’ or ‘China-virus’ gave people license to spread hate against Asian Americans as they were scapegoated for spreading the coronavirus. As elected officials, we owe it to our constituents to speak truth to power and refrain from harmful rhetoric. We must do better.”

Executive Director of AAPI Civic Engagement Fund EunSook Lee said, “At over 11 million strong, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the US electorate and had the highest increase in voter turnout in 2020. We have reached critical mass to become a voting bloc in key states and congressional districts. We’ve seen cases of our communities being scapegoated or dismissed as an electorate, and that is not a winning strategy. AAPI communities align closely in values and opinions with voters of color and have the power to shift outcomes during the midterm elections and beyond.”

Download the report here

The Stop AAPI Hate coalition encourages any member of the AAPI community who has experienced hate during the pandemic to report the incident at: https://stopaapihate.org/reportincident/.

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