It has been nearly two full years since the pandemic disrupted everyone’s lives more than we could have imagined. For Asian Americans in particular, the ugliness of anti-Asian hate fueled by misconceptions and misplaced blame for the pandemic. We knew many of these racist attitudes existed and persisted long before COVID, but COVID provided the cover for these attitudes to rise up, just as they did in the wake of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 to target people because of the false attribution of blame.
While the most attention was paid to the vicious physical attacks on Asian people, particularly our elderly community members, there has been much more going on that doesn’t get in the nightly news headlines. According to StopAAPIHate.org, online harassment against Asian Americans has increased from 6.1% to 10.6% as a share of reported incidents.
At the same time, sites such as StopAAPIHate.org have been the catalyst for better tracking hate incidents against our community. As a point of comparison, the annual FBI Hate Crimes report for 2020 reported a staggering 76% increase in reported crimes against Asian Americans from 2019 to 2020, but numerically, it was an increase from only 158 to 279 incidents. Over a nearly one-year period from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021, StopAAPIHate.org received reports of 3,795 incidents. While not all those are crimes, significant numbers were physical and verbal assaults that would rise to the level of a crime. Through the power of the internet, we have been able to shed light on this additional endemic that afflicts our community, that of anti-Asian hate.
Even as we see the power that the internet can bring to increasing our knowledge, we know that there remain too many gaps. Gaps in affordability, accessibility, availability, and usability impede our community’s and many others from fully accessing the resources vital to participation in today’s society.
The ability to report an incident through Stop AAPI Hate, or find community resources to go the next step and report an incident to law enforcement are often more readily accessed, and available through the internet today. The COVID resources such as PPP loans were most often accessible through online application portals as now are job applications, public municipal services such as permits, and as we have seen so much for children, schoolwork and resources are increasingly online. The internet is an inextricable part of our daily lives.
There remains one in 10 Asian Americans who lack ready connection to high-speed internet or even access to a computer. We must ensure there are tools in place to ensure that broadband is made affordable and accessible to all members of society. This can be done through subsidies in markets where the infrastructure exists and in combination with discount programs often already offered by broadband providers.
For some, the reticence to accessing the internet may be due to factors beyond affordability or accessibility. There may be a perception that they don’t need to be on the internet. Here we need to expand opportunities to educate on the importance of the internet. In this past year of endless video conferencing, while many of us who perhaps overused the medium, recognize the importance of having such tools to maintain connectedness through the internet, that we could maintain a sense of community, when physical community was rendered impossible. Grandparents and grandchildren kept in contact through technology when physical visits were impossible as was the case in my own family.
These are the connections that perhaps some people need to better understand, and to combat the negativity that may drive some away from the internet. Even as documented hate online and in the public sphere has increased, it was the rallying cries throughout the internet that brought our community together with others to respond and repudiate those spreading the hate and violence. It was the power of the internet that brought these incidents to light, and brought about Congress to act decisively in passing the COVID 19 Hate Crimes Act.
Congress has just passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide more resources toward implementing broadband in rural and urban areas that continue to lack access. We need to continue to invest to ensure that those in areas with limited internet availability also have access. The internet has demonstrated its importance to us all this past year, and we know how those with access to broadband and basic computer technology are in a much better position to meet all the challenges society is throwing at us. It is becoming increasingly unimaginable that one can participate in normal daily life activities without the ability to access the internet regularly and reliably.
David Inoue is the executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.