As a whole, Americans of Asian descent have fared marginally better than other minorities in recent decades, at least until Donald Trump’s insistence on calling the COVID-19 virus “the Wuhan flu,” “the China virus,” and other racist terms in his attempts to politicize a public health issue.
While the United States has a long history of anti-Asian behavior — from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1884 which restricted legal entry of Chinese immigrants to our nation to the shameful interment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II — recent decades had seen the image of Asian Americans transform from “the yellow peril” to one of a model minority whose educational accomplishments were the envy of all.
Since the beginning of the pandemic and Trump’s relentless propaganda campaign seeking to demonize the Chinese government as the ones responsible for the global health crisis to deflect blame from his own incompetent handling of the outbreak of COVID, however, racist attacks on Asian Americans by ignorant Trump supporters seeking targets to blame for their frustrations with the restrictions against the disease have multiplied alarmingly.
One might think — with the deployment of a vaccine and the subsequent advances in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus that have lead to steep declines in the number of new daily cases — that the incidents of bigotry and violence against Asian Americans would cease.
The reality, however, is not so rosily interpreted.
Take the spitting and punching assault on an 83-year-old Korean American woman that took place earlier this week in the New York City suburb of White Plains.
According to an account of the incident in The Washington Post:
“The victim was walking alone near a shopping center Tuesday evening when police say Glenmore Nembhard, 40, attacked her without provocation, striking her so hard that she hit her head on the ground and blacked out. When she regained consciousness, the man was gone, according to police” the newspaper reports.
The local ABC TV affiliate reported that “the victim in the White Plains attack said she was collecting bottles and cans to trade in for cash when she was attacked outside a Nordstrom store at the Westchester Mall. She said that although she was left bleeding, she didn’t go to the hospital because she was worried about the medical bills.”
“Her daughter told the station that the incident shocked the family. ‘Now I’m afraid to go out, and my kid is afraid to go out,’ she said, according to The Washington Post.
While it wasn’t immediately apparent how law enforcement authorities determined that Nembhard was the woman’s attacker, police arrested him on Thursday near the location of the attack and charged him with second-degree assault on a person 65 or older, a felony that carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
The police described the suspect as a homeless Black male, and court records demonstrate that Nembhard has been arrested by White Plains police at least four other times during the past year.
White Plains police have yet to classify the assault as a racially motivated hate crime, but Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. “Mimi” Rocah said her office was investigating whether the beating could be prosecuted under that classification.
“Attacks like this one impact all of us. They create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that keeps us from feeling safe and secure in our homes and communities,” Rocah said in a statement. “I urge everyone to report all hate crimes and bias incidents, even if you are not the victim, so that law enforcement can track and work to prevent these terrible acts.”
Meanwhile, President Biden strongly condemned the spate of violence targeted at Asian Americans in his televised speech on Thursday evening. saying that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”
“So many of them are fellow Americans. They’re on the front lines of this pandemic, trying to save lives,” Biden said. “And still, still, they’re forced to live in fear for their lives, just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong. It’s un-American, and it must stop.”
Let’s hope that President Biden’s statements are as effective at curtailing the simmering bigotry against Asian Americans as the former president’s racist rhetoric were at inspiring them.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.