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Anti-racist poster, New York

Anti-racist poster, New York. Photo: Jess Hawsor / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked at bottom of article

On UN Anti-Racism Day, Jamal Elaheebocus looks at the anti-Chinese racism behind the recent Atlanta murders and the role of imperialism in fuelling it

On Tuesday night, eight people were shot dead, including six Asian-American women, in Atlanta, Georgia. The attacks took place at several massage parlours and spas around Atlanta and a 21-year-old man has been arrested.

The murders have caused an outpouring of grief and anger from the Asian-American community. Hundreds of people took to the street in Washington, DC and in New York on Wednesday night to protest against hate crime targeted towards Asian people. Memorials were also set up in Atlanta, Seattle and Minneapolis, among other cities.

Incredibly, officials in Atlanta refused to say that the attack was racially motivated. Cherokee County Sherriff’s Captain Baker seemed to defend the man accused of the murders, saying "yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did” and that "he apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate”. It was later revealed that Captain Baker had previously shared an image on his Facebook referring to Covid as “imported virus from Chy-na”.

This excusing of racist attacks by the police comes as no surprise especially given the police’s own role in racist violence. Additionally, the FBI has consistently failed to deal with hate crime effectively, having records of only 4,930 victims of hate  crime for 2019, which is undoubtedly a gross underestimation. Almost 90% of law enforcement organisations involved in the 2019 hate crimes study reported no incidents at all.

The attack comes at a time when Sinophobia is on the rise in the US and the West. There has been a surge in attacks on Asian Americans in the US since the beginning of the pandemic, with the New York hate crimes task force investigating 27 incidents in 2020 - a ninefold increase on the number of incidents last year.

The rise in anti-Chinese racism in the US is a direct product of the increasingly hostile foreign policy towards China. Under Donald Trump’s presidency, the anti-China rhetoric was ramped up, particularly throughout the pandemic, labelling Covid “the China virus”. Throughout his campaign Biden sought to out-do even Trump, claiming that Trump “rolled over for the Chinese” and since becoming President he has stepped up US belligerence against China.

In Britain, the picture is not much different, and the government is similarly responsible for ratcheting up anti-Chinese prejudice. Backbench Tory MPs, including the particularly nasty Tom Tugendhat, set up the “China Research Group”, which has fuelled anti-China sentiment and continues to call for more hostile policies towards the Chinese government.

This week’s foreign policy review that announced more spending to increase Britain’s nuclear arsenal, restated the Johnson government’s hostility to China. Johnson is keen to continue Britain’s role as junior partner to US imperialism, and that will mean continuing jingoism against China – which will inevitably continue to drive anti-Chinese racism and hate crimes.

There was a 300% increase in hate crime reports from British Chinese, East and South East Asians in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019 and 2018. Most recently a Chinese lecturer was brutally attacked by a group of men in Southampton, shouting “Chinese virus” as they chased him.

BAME NHS staff, and particularly Chinese NHS staff, are also reporting a worsening situation in terms of racism they are facing, with a quarter of nurses said they had witnessed racist behaviour at work.

The last twelve months has exposed structural racism in society, with BAME people at much higher risk of contracting and dying from Covid due to living in overcrowded conditions and because of the high proportion of BAME people working in frontline jobs during the pandemic.

However, the last year has also seen an outpouring of anger and defiance against racism in society. The Black Lives Matter protests, which erupted across the US and UK after the death of George Floyd, attracted millions of people to the streets and protests continued for months in the US, despite violence from the police and Trump-supporting militias.

It is also significant that the Atlanta killer targeted women. In the week that thousands have mobilised in Britain to demand an end to violence against women, this is a sad reminder of how rooted it remains in society, and that it is tied in with imperialism and racism. Our movement must take on these issues together and unite people to fight for fundamental change from below.

One thing we can do is support Stand Up to Racism’s actions on UN Anti-Racism Day. People across the country are being encouraged to take the knee at 1pm, with a live link-up to events taking place around the world happening from 1-2 PM. Join the #WorldAgainstRacism rally at 5PM, with speakers including Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon, Roger McKenzie and many others. Register for the rally here.

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