A week ago, my feed was filled with images of an elderly man being violently shoveled to hard, cement ground. While others shook their heads in empathy for this stranger and his family, I saw my grandpa, who was outside moments ago, happily grocery shopping in preparation for the Lunar New Year.
The man in the video had a name—Rantanpakdee. Now, he is dead.
Over the past few months, there have been several attacks on the Asian American community, some specifically targeted towards the elderly. However, the events depicted are only the tip of the iceberg, for Asian discrimination is far more complex and is rooted in American history. These hate crimes show that these instances cannot be simply swept under the rug, and must be addressed by the country and public.
Many threats stem from the idea that Asians have caused the Coronavirus, a belief that was perpetrated by the Trump administration through press releases and improper use of social media. As more Americans followed the example of the former president, xenophobia against the Asian community soared and once again, another minority group became the scapegoat for issues that were completely out of their control.
In fact, much of this prejudice is even seen in our own communities today. Last month, a 52-year-old Asian American woman residing in Oakland’s Chinatown was shot in the head with a flare gun. Just last week, a 64-year-old grandmother was attacked for having cash in her purse due to Lunar New Year festivities. Throughout the United States, the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON) recorded 3,000 attacks on Asians Americans from March to December of 2020. The statistics are not just numbers—they’re telling a story, one of prejudice and outright discrimination that should not be acceptable in this day and age.
However, the one incident that sparked rage and public attention was the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84 year old grandpa. In security footage, Ratanapakdee is seen walking when assistant Antoine Watson runs to him with full speed and smashes Rantanapakdee to the ground. Two days later, he was pronounced dead at the San Francisco General Hospital. Currently, 19 year old Watson has been charged with murder but has pleaded not guilty on Feb. 3.
One of the most egregious facts about Ratanapakdee’s death was that he was utterly defenseless. An elderly man was pitted against a young individual in his prime, and for what reason? To show the world that beating an elderly was the best way to demonstrate frustration? This was a hate crime, and understandably, it’s enough to make my blood, and many others, boil.
At Wilson, a sweep of the eye around campus can easily determine that many students are from an Asian and Pacific Islander background. While our student body is very diverse, this issue is still one that needs to be addressed to bring awareness of our behavior towards one another. We may tease others, and even ourselves, for upholding Asian stereotypes that we prioritize education and are smart at math but bad at socializing or other skills. Instead of twisting our strengths and highlighting our weaknesses, students should focus on celebrating who they are as individuals and pursue their passions without stereotypes holding us back. Racism is taught, but we can learn empathy and kindness for yourselves and the people around us.
This anti-Asian sentiment has brought enough harm to the community, but the most saddening consequence of these attacks have been the dampened positives for Lunar New Year. As businesses in San Francisco’s Chinatown realize the danger they are in, many opt to close sooner, and customers hurriedly bustle to purchase their products with a wary eye of anyone who seems suspicious. Simply put, this is no way to celebrate such a holiday that focuses on prosperity and better futures. Our country has to do better. We are made of many immigrants coming from various corners of the world. Systemic racism for all minorities have subdued as history continues, but it has not disappeared. From the Black Lives Matter movement in June to the anti-Asian sentiment today, it is clear that more progress has to be made —especially in a land that promises equal opportunity and freedom for all.
In response to these numerous attacks, many protesters have held local elected officials responsible and demanded action. The mayor, police chief and district attorney in San Francisco have all announced plans to bring justice for Ratanapakdee. However, according to Rachel Marshall in an NPR article, “There is no evidence of motive related to hate…the case is still under investigation.”
Nevertheless, it is difficult to tackle Asian discrimination face on due to its complexities. One key component that is often associated with Asian Americans are model minorities. Essentially, this describes any minority group as more successful than other minorities; in this case, Asian Americans have been lauded for being academically successful, earning affluent money and taking advantage of the opportunities they have in America that may be unavailable to other minority communities.
Although there is some truth to this generalization, this does not dismiss the fact that Asians are still a minority. Putting the success of one minority group creates a divide between disadvantaged groups and results in restatement of one another rather than racing the larger, systemic issue of oppression that affects everyone. According to Claire Jean Kim, a professor at the University of California, Irvine in an NPR article, “[Asian success] was immediately a reflection on black people: Now why weren't black people making it, but Asians were?”
Ratanapakdee’s death, along with Watson’s racial background, has only heightened this block between racial communities. However, just as quickly, a movement spread to ensure that these attacks were met with peace, not violence. On social media, numerous posts promoted spreading awareness for the Asian American community and not being anti-Black.
To add to the light at the end of the tunnel, some community members have taken matters in their own hands in Northern California. Groups of ad hoc volunteers have joined together to protect the elderly, assisting them in walking down the street, picking up groceries and taking them home.
In regards to federal action, President Joe Biden has signed a memorandum addressing the prevalent issues of racism and xenophobia swirling around the country. This is a great first step to address the issue that this community is facing today. Compared to previous administrations that promoted stereotypes and harmful rhetoric to be spread, Biden’s memorandum creates a great contrast to previous leadership and demonstrates accountability as well as responsibility to the people’s needs.
It is extremely difficult to reconstruct a system that history has built for us: a hierarchy where some are able to succeed due to biased, uncontrollable factors such as physical appearance and skin tone. We must remember that before our race, we are all human, and we need to treat others as so.