A lot has already been said about last week’s shootings of six Asian women and others at spas in Atlanta – that it was shocking but not surprising, that it was the predictable result of a year of hate spewed by political leaders, that it doesn’t have to be totally racially motivated to be a hate crime and can in fact be the product of racism and misogyny and fetishization all at the same time, that it was the result of lax gun laws that allow the violent to act on their worst impulses.
There’s also been an understandable look back at systemic racism against Asians in the U.S., from the massacres in Wyoming and Los Angeles and the Chinese Exclusion Act to the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s.
All this can seem far removed from Vermont. Asian-Americans made up less than two percent of Vermont’s population, with two-thirds living in Chittenden County according to recent Census data.
But anti-Asian racism is alive and well here too, and in some ways made more insidious by Vermonters’ belief in our own tolerance.
Over the last year, that racism has included the frequent casual use of “China virus,” memes circulating among kids of Asian people biting the heads off live animals, quasi-scientific Facebook posts about the dangers of Chinese wet markets, public confrontations, shouts out of car windows to “go back to…”, jokes and othering and ultimately, hate.
Yet despite these attacks, there has been a pervasive silence from leaders and media - including in Vermont. Over the last year since COVID-19 became a household term, Asian Americans have reported nearly 4,000 unique attacks. The silence around these attacks is stunning, but it isn’t new. It’s why the Vermont APIDA (Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American) for Black Lives group posted this letter on Tuesday night.
We extol the virtues of Franklin Roosevelt and his vision for big public investment to rescue this country from economic crisis, but we rarely hear about his Executive Order 9066 at the same time. The lines connecting systemic racism aimed at Indigenous peoples of North America and Black Americans to anti-immigrant sentiment are all too visible in our history and yet often ignored by our education system. In the last week, many Asian-Americans in Vermont have been relying on support from the Black, Indigenous and People of Color community, with muted public response from the white community.
We can think of these women lost and we can think about all the forces that brought them to that moment in their lives. We can think about their families and the people who loved them. We can think about their pain and struggles, and happy moments. And we should do all of that. Because racism and misogyny and anti-immigrant policies and economic inequality all rely on the dehumanization of others, on making them somehow different from us.
At Public Assets Institute, we are working toward a Vermont that works for everybody, no one excluded. The struggles of any of us are the struggles of all of us. Leaving behind any Vermonter, native or not, documented or not, is not okay.
If there’s one thing that has become clear in this long pandemic year, it’s that we have a long way to go in the fight for racial justice, for gender justice and for economic justice.
Weiwei Wang is Vice-Chair of the board and Steph Yu is the Deputy Director of Public Assets Institute (www.publicassets.org), a non-partisan, non-profit organization based in Montpelier.