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In poll, most people see a rise in violence and discrimination against Asian Americans

In March, members of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles drove with signs against hatred and discrimination.
In March, members of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles drove with signs against hatred and discrimination.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans across racial and ethnic groups believe discrimination has worsened in the last year against Asian Americans, who became the target of attacks after being unfairly blamed for the coronavirus pandemic.

A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 60 percent of Americans say discrimination against Asian Americans has swelled, compared with a year ago, including 71 percent of Asian Americans, 66 percent of Black Americans, 59 percent of white Americans, and 55 percent of Hispanic Americans.

Nearly half of Americans believe Asian Americans encounter “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of discrimination in the United States today. The poll also finds about 6 in 10 Americans say racism in general is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem. And a majority of Asian Americans say they feel unsafe in public because of their race.

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Susan Lee, of Sacramento, Calif., said friends initiated conversations with her about racism as random attacks on Asians became more frequent, but the 72-year-old Chinese American noted a key difference between friends who were Asian and non-Asian.

“My non-Asian friends are probably more astonished that this is occurring,’' Lee said. ’'I think Chinese or ‘Asians’ have always been looked at as a positive asset. I think they are puzzled by that situation.”

Renee Tajima-Pena, an Asian American Studies professor at the University of California Los Angeles and co-producer of the PBS docuseries “Asian Americans,” isn’t surprised some people have never thought of Asian Americans as victims. The dominant narrative has always been they are successful, don’t speak up and, therefore, encounter little racism.

“The model-minority myth is such a drug for Americans,” Tajima-Pena said.

More than 6,600 anti-Asian hate incidents from March 2020 to March 2021 have been documented by Stop AAPI Hate, a national reporting center. The encounters ranged from verbal harassment to attacks that ended fatally, including March 16 Atlanta-area shootings that killed six Asian women.

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The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University San Bernardino found that Asian-targeted hate crimes in the largest US cities rose 145 percent in 2020, compared with 2019, though hate crimes overall declined 6 percent. In the first quarter of this year, anti-Asian crimes reported to police in 16 major cities and counties jumped 164 percent from the same time period last year.

“That’s why people understand now the violence Asian Americans face,” Tajima-Pena said. “People couldn’t avoid it in the press or the national conversation. People are gathering data and talking about it.”

Fifty-seven percent of Asian Americans say they feel unsafe in public “often” or “sometimes” because of their race, similar to the share of Black Americans and higher than the share of Hispanic or white Americans. Because the survey was conducted in English and Spanish, it is representative of the English-speaking Asian American population but may not include those who primarily speak a language other than English.

Glendon Yuri-Sweetland, 34, of Brewer, Maine, blames the former president for the increased discrimination against Asian Americans. Donald Trump’s constant references to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and other racist terms are still embedded in a lot of minds, he said.

“As my husband would say, ‘It’s only stirring the pot,’” Yuri-Sweetland said. “But I think that even just having that platform for a while, our former president probably has had enough exposure to get his message out.”

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Close to half of Americans are “very” or “extremely” concerned that incidents of violence targeting Asian Americans have increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the poll, including about two-thirds of Asian Americans.

President Biden last week signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. The legislation will put a Justice Department official in charge of a review of anti-Asian hate crimes and will allot federal grants for law enforcement training and hate crime hotlines.

Tajima-Pena believes the visibility of Asian Americans outside of their communities has fundamentally changed in the past year and it isn’t going to fade. And videos like the one showing the brutal beating of a Filipino American woman in New York City as three people stood by and watched have undoubtedly contributed to the greater awareness.

“I think the narrative is shifting,” Tajima-Pena said. “It’s like 2020 was really the year where our response was ‘Stop AAPI hate’ . . . The flip side of it is in 2021, people are really looking at solutions and solidarity.”