ANALYSIS: Racism in the US deeply rooted


The demonstrators are seen with their signs of "Stop Asian Hate" in New York on April 4, 2021. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19, Asian Americans have become targets of racial discrimination, with significant rise of hate crimes.

According to US credible sources, the number of anti-Asian American hate crime cases increased by 150% in 2020, and in particular, New York City increased even by 833%, compared with the previous year.

The emergence of hate crimes has sparked an unprecedented wave of a national-wide demonstration by Asian Americans.

On April 4th, an anti-Asian hate march took place in New York, with tens of thousands of people taking part. It is the first demonstration on a massive scale held by Asian Americans in 200 years of history.

Asian-Americans, known as the “model minority”, are forced to take to the streets, which is yet another proof of the comprehensiveness and seriousness of the problem of racial discrimination and exposes the chronic human rights ills in the US.

The recent increase in violent crimes of racial discrimination against Asians is due to a number of factors, including political, economic, historical, cultural, legal and social factors, and deeply rooted in the country’s flawed political and judicial system and history of racism.

Politically, although the U.S. Constitution provides that all men are born free and equal, there are plenty of whites who consider themselves a superior race.

The so-called "white supremacy" is deeply rooted in American society. Many senior officials and policy advisers in the previous Trump Administration believed in “white supremacy”.

Racism has also spread to some ethnic minorities, resulting in a systematic racial discrimination. As some scholars pointed out pointedly, “the US is based on racism. ”

In fact, the US has a long history of racial discrimination in its 244 years of history, ranging from the genocide of native Americans in the early years, to the enslavement of black people, to the persecution of Chinese laborers in the late 19th century, and further to the recent violent execution by white police of an African American, George Floyd.

As Professor Robin DiAngelo at the University of Washington pointed out, “the US was founded on the principle that all people are created equal. Yet the nation began with the attempted genocide of Indigenous people and the theft of their land. American wealth was built on the labor of kidnapped and enslaved Africans and their dependents. Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, and black women were denied access to their right util 1965.”

Historically, the US has experienced large-scale and sustained anti-Chinese events. The infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first racial discriminative immigration law passed in US against a particular ethnic group.

This 1882 Act authorized the US government to suspend Chinese immigration, resulting in the tragedy of a large number of Chinese laborers in the western US, being permanently separated from their families in China.

Although the Act was abolished in World War II in the context of anti-fascism alliances, the history of Chinese exclusion has not been liquidated, and Chinese laborers and their descendants who were illegally harmed have not received any state compensation.

It wasn't until 2012 that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to issue a formal public apology for the brutal legislation of Chinese Exclusion Act. It seems the legacy of racial discrimination against Chinese Americans is still strong today.

Legally, the serious lack of relevant legislation is a major problem. The long-standing legislative inaction of the US government has been an important reason for the growing problem of racial discrimination and ethnic hate crimes.

As a State Party to the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the US has not only failed to fulfil its obligation under the Convention, but also has not taken effective measures to eliminate its domestic systematic racial discrimination.

Article 2 of the Convention requires each State Party take effective measures to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists.

While acceding to the Convention, however, the Unites States made a reservation declaring that this Convention is not self-executive domestically and could not be cited as legal basis for claiming equal rights in US courts.

The US further made a reservation under the guise of freedom of speech against Article 4 of the Convention, which explicitly prohibits incitement to racial discrimination and the dissemination of expressions of racial discrimination.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the supervisory body for the implementation of the Convention, has repeatedly reminded the US that its reservations are incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention, and urged it to withdraw or modify the reservations in question, which the US has ignored.

As a result, the Convention has been shelved and totally neglected by the US, where domestic legislation against racial discrimination has been absent.

The US is the largest immigrant country in the world. American minority immigrants have made an indelible contribution to the development and prosperity of the US, but they have been the victims of racial discrimination.

Asian-Americans in particular generally lack voice and influence and are in a weaker position in terms of legal and governmental protection of their legitimate ethnic rights and interests. Whenever economic recession and social unrest occurs, they are vulnerable to shocks and injuries and become the main targets of racial discrimination and hatred.

For instance, the 2008 international financial crisis triggered by the US subprime mortgage crisis saw a sharp rise in hate and violent crime against Asian Americans.

It is noted that the current wave of hatred and violence against Asian-Americans has come at a historical moment when the raging of COVID-19 epidemic in the US and a highly volatile presidential race have combined to create social rifts, ethnic rivalries and anti-Chinese waves.

The US, in the past years under the Trump administration, embraced populist conspiracies in respect to the origin of the COVID-19. Furthermore, Trump directly tweeted the “China virus,” spiking the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes. The attempt to politicize the epidemic has helped fuel and catalyze the rise in violence against Asian Americans, who are once again being used as pawns by some politicians for shifting blames. Therefore, former President Donald Trump, former Secretary Mike Pompeo, and some other malicious politicians have an undeniable responsibility to the anti-Asian hate crimes.

Internationally, the issue of persistent racial discrimination within the US has been of great concern to international human rights bodies.

Several experts from the UN human rights bodies observed that racism and ethnic discrimination in the US and xenophobia were on the rise, and that the US had a long history of systematic and structural racism. In a joint statement in November 2018, they severely criticized the irresponsible racist statements and actions of some senior US officials that incite racial hatred and xenophobia and create a hostile social environment for non-whites in violation of international human rights standards.

On June 5th 2020, 12 UN Special Rapporteurs, 3 working groups on human rights and the Chairman of the CERD issued statements stating that, the killings of people of African descent, such as Floyd, demonstrate “a serious disregard or ill will for human life”, and are a modern form of racial lynching. On 15 June of the same year, the CERD further called for immediate structural reform of the US to end racial discrimination and to fulfil its obligations under the Convention.

The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Racial Discrimination has also criticized American officials for their racist remarks in addressing the COVID-19 epidemic as forgivable and unreasonable, thus constituting a breach of obligations under international human rights law.

Asian Americans adore the Doctrine of Mean, and values peace. The outbreak of hate crimes against Asian Americans this time is extremely unusual. It shows, on the one hand, the recent hate crimes against Asian Americans have reached the point of intolerance, and on the other hand, Asian Americans are awakening and united.

In the face of the persistent and rampant crime of ethnic hatred, there will be no way out without a fight. Furthermore, without a stable and safe social environment, no one can live and work in peace and harmony.

It is a constitutional principle of the US that all men are created equal, but the record of the US government in that regard is far from satisfactory. The US should first do its own work well instead of interfering with internal affairs of other countries everywhere.

(The author is a member of the UN International Law Commission, and Distinguished Professor of Wuhan University Institute of International Law. He is also former Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia.)
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