Recently Canadian yoga brand Lululemon’s artistic director, Trevor Fleming, shared an image of a t-shirt depicting a “bat-fried rice” design on it with the words ‘No Thank You’. The ‘quarantee’ in question was originally designed by California artist Jess Sluder and sparked outrage across China.
The t-shirt design is yet another example of the mounting anti – Asian incidents being reported around the world. While we should condemn Fleming and Sluder’s actions, a broader conversation about racism and scapegoating is more necessary than ever in the midst of this pandemic.
As we have witnessed Covid-19 grow into an untamable monster so have we witnessed reports of anti-Asian racism and rhetoric increase rapidly in number. On March 19 2020, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), Chinese For Affirmative Action (CAA) and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department launched STOP AAPI HATE (Asian American & Pacific Islander). The center has been tracking self-reported incidents of anti -Asian racism and discrimination. Thus far 1,135 physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans have been reported across the United States.
In the UK similar incidents were reported when talks of Brexit began, emboldening racists to put into action their long-held ideologies. According to a survey published in 2019 by Opinium , a UK based market research and insight consultancy, 71% of people from ethnic minorities now report racial discrimination, compared to 58% before the EU Referendum.
“Racial scapegoating and racism is an epidemic that needs to be dealt with.”
“Our study has revealed a rise of racism in the UK’s most diverse areas. The study suggests racists are feeling increasingly confident in deploying abuse or discrimination”, says Priya Minhas, research manager at Opinium . “The proportion of people from an ethnic minority who said they had been targeted by a stranger rose from 64% in January 2016 to 76% in February 2019.”
Scapegoating is nothing new
It is easy for us to think that in the past 5 or 6 years things have gotten much worse for minorities and other vulnerable communities but anti-immigrant sentiment and racist fear-mongering have been a longstanding issue around the world for many years.
29 years ago the 1991 Gulf War saw a sharp uptick in hostility towards Arabs in The United States. Arab Americans faced backlash as a result of multiple terrorist attacks including attacks they were not involved in. In 1995 the Oklahoma City Bombing took place, after which the Arab American Institute reported more than 200 hate crimes were committed against Arab Americans and American Muslims. Similar incidents of violence were also reported in 2001 following the days after the 9/11 attacks.
“There has never been a more pertinent time to discuss our collective treatment of [others].”
According to a poll of Arab Americans, conducted by the Arab American Institute 20% percent of Arab Americans reported having experienced an incidence of ethnic based discrimination or violence since the 9/11 attacks and 45% of students and 37% of Arab Americans of the Muslim faith reported being targeted since 9/11.
We should talk about this more
In conclusion, while we can and should focus on individual flare ups of racism, scapegoating and racial injustice, we need to focus on the bigger picture. Racial scapegoating and racism is, too, an epidemic that needs to be dealt with via widespread education, dialogue and political action.
The war is won by seeing the battles as connected with minorities and vulnerable groups anywhere fighting racial and ethnic scapegoating everywhere. If we continue to see these instances as separate, we lose out on the magnitude of the issue, and don’t learn from instance to instance how better to create a world that can take responsibility and accountability without oppressing and subjugating certain communities time and time again.
Now more than ever before we are responsible for one another, there has never been a more pertinent time to discuss our collective treatment of those who we see as not our own. We belong to one another and the sooner we truly begin to see and understand that, the sooner this world becomes an easier place to endure. And hopefully at some point we won’t have to endure it but will be able to live in it.