Why Has AAPI Hate Been Rising?


Key Items to Consider: 

  1. What are AAPI hate crimes? Why have they been on the rise?
  2. History of AAPI Discrimination
  3. 2021 Atlanta Spa Shootings
  4. What is being done to aid the AAPI community?

1: What are AAPI hate crimes? Why have they been on the rise?

Approximately 1 in every 4 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face hate incidents such as name-calling, shunning, and assault during their lifetime. In 2020 alone, nearly 3,800 hate incidents were reported against the AAPI community — a 150% increase from 2019. These numbers (only a small fraction of actual incidents) highlight an uptick in anti-AAPI sentiments since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The first spike of AAPI hate crimes occurred last March in conjunction with a rise of COVID-19 cases. Since then, negative associations of the AAPI community with the virus have only escalated and been fueled by racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Former President Donald Trump’s administration, for example, frequently used discriminatory language such as “China virus,” “Wuhan virus,” and “Kung flu” to refer to the coronavirus. Google searches of these terms spiked during 2020, in part because of such disparaging rhetoric.

A graph depicting the extent of AAPI xenophobia (2021 American Experiences with Discrimination Survey, SurveyMonkey and AAPI Data)

2. History of AAPI discrimination

The Asian American Journalists Association published a memo earlier this March noting the “historically invisible” nature of anti-Asian racism in the United States. After American workers’ concerns about “maintaining white racial purity,” Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, barring Chinese immigration for 20 years. This was the first law restricting immigration to the United States. It remained in effect for more than 60 years after passing before it was ultimately repealed in 1943. 

On December 7, 1941, a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the United States into World War II. Shortly after the bombing, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt required people of Japanese descent to remain in internment camps for the duration of the war over suspicions that they may assist the enemy. Conditions in these camps were extreme: “blazing hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.” The internees were freed following the end of WWII, but they returned to vandalized and confiscated homes and businesses. Further, it was only in 1988 (over 35 years later) that survivors received a presidential apology and $20,000 each in reparations.

In 1982, 27-year-old Chinese American Vincent Chin was celebrating his bachelor party in a Detroit bar. There, two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz assailed and beat Chin to death, blaming him for “the Japanese taking their auto-industry jobs.” In the trial, Ebens and Nitz were given probation and a $3,000 fine — a lenient sentence in comparison to the possible manslaughter sentence of 15 years.

Vincent Chin (Wochit)

3. 2021 Atlanta Spa Shootings

On March 16, 2021, suspect Robert Aaron Long conducted a series of mass shootings that occurred in three spas in Atlanta, Georgia. Eight victims, six of whom were Asian, were fatally shot during the attacks. The victims’ names were: Delaina Ashley Yaun (33), Xiaojie Tan (49), Daoyou Feng (44), Paul Andre Michels (54), Hyun Jung Grant (51), Soon Chung Park (74), Suncha Kim (69), Yong Ae Yue (63), and Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz (30). The killings of the six Asian women has called attention to anti-AAPI racism, sparked discourse on this “silent struggle,” and prompted nationwide rallies. Jeannine Bell, an Indiana University law professor and hate crimes expert, says that although the hate crime charge will not change the expected amount of time the gunman spends in prison, it “serves the important purpose of sending a message to the community…It’s an acknowledgement…that someone did something because of bias.”

(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

4. What is being done to aid the AAPI community?

In reaction to the Atlanta shootings, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American community leaders to discuss the increase of anti-AAPI sentiments. Subsequently, President Biden declared his support for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act which was proposed with the intent of tackling anti-Asian hate crimes. Furthermore, local Asian advocacy organizations like Stop AAPI Hate and Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies offer programs to support the AAPI community such as senior escorts and bystander intervention training. While some lawmakers and activists call for stronger enforcement of hate crime laws and policing, others prefer “resident-driven” efforts. Both groups, however, recognize the necessity of ongoing efforts to support the AAPI community and battle AAPI hate crimes.


  • Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate crimes, fueled by racist rhetoric, have been on the rise since the start of COVID-19 last spring.
  • Discrimination against the AAPI community is not new; it has been recurrent throughout American history, present in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1822, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, and the murder of Vincent Chin in the late 1980s.
  • The 2021 Atlanta Spa Shootings left eight dead, six of whom were Asian. These shootings incited anti-AAPI racism debates and rallies.
  • Federal and local actions have been taken to decrease xenophobic and racist sentiments against the AAPI community including the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Bill and local senior escorts and bystander intervention training.


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