Since the pandemic hit, attacks against Asian Americans are on the rise. The special series The Race Gap in the U.S. premieres with an episode exploring the forces behind the vicious circle of racial hatred stoked by politicians, and the very real consequences of those actions.
Correspondent Gerry Hadden travels to the Bay Area, in and around San Francisco, where about a third of the population is of Asian descent. He talks to some of the victims of these attacks and traces back to the origins of this racial animosity with the help of scholars, activists and experts.
Anti-Asian sentiment was first codified in 1875 with the Page Act, which barred Chinese women from entering the country. Chinese laborers were among the first Asians to come the United States, brought over in the mid nineteenth century to work on the construction of the transcontinental railroad. In the words of filmmaker and professor Valerie Soe, with the economic depression following the Civil War “people were looking for someone to blame, and the railroads have already been built, the Chinese had outlived their usefulness so they became the target”. During this time, institutional propagandists would use slogans like “The Chinese must go” or “Yellow Fever” to help spread racial hate.
In the decades to come, there would be several instances where either economic hardships or political conflict would fuel racial animosity towards people of Asian descent. In the 1930s, Filipinos were not allowed to become U.S. citizens. In California, Japanese Americans were put in internment camps during World War II.
This vicious circle entered a new phase with the COVID-19 epidemic, getting to the point where some members of the Asian American community grew more fearful of attacks than contagion.