Joe Biden Signs Executive Order Condemning Anti-Asian Racism Related To COVID-19

While a largely symbolic coronavirus measure, it’s in stark contrast to the actions of Donald Trump, who actively fomented racism against Asian Americans.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Tuesday condemning the wave of anti-Asian racism accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a largely symbolic measure but one that nevertheless stands in stark contrast to the actions of his predecessor, who actively fomented racism against Asian Americans.

It recommends that federal health authorities should make sure their COVID-19 response “demonstrates cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity towards AAPIs.” It also directs the Department of Justice to make more concerted efforts to address hate crimes and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in partnership with AAPI community leaders.

Since the beginning of last year, Asian Americans have experienced a surge in racist attacks and harassment related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As early as January 2020, when COVID-19 cases first began to surge in China, Asian American businesses reported a precipitous drop in sales and patronage due to COVID-19 fears. By March, many Asian Americans began documenting experiences of racism, including being called racial slurs, being spat on and/or physically assaulted, as well as being denied services, experiencing workplace discrimination and other potential civil rights violations.

A coalition of AAPI advocacy groups and scholars called STOP AAPI HATE started collecting these incidents in an online database. By August, they had received reports of 2,583 racist incidents from respondents in 47 states and Washington, D.C. The number is likely an undercount because the data is self-reported and voluntary.

Former President Donald Trump continually poured gasoline on the fire, frequently referring to the pandemic using racist and xenophobic slurs, fear-mongering against people of Asian descent and blaming China to distract from his own shambolic response to the pandemic.

In September, the House passed legislation similar to Biden’s executive order. The nonbinding resolution condemned and denounced “any and all anti-Asian sentiment in any form” and urged federal, state and local officials to document, investigate and collect data on any reports of anti-Asian hate incidents.

The vote was largely along party lines, and lawmakers spent more than two hours debating it on the House floor. GOP allies of Trump claimed the legislation was simply meant to attack him, repeatedly dismissing the magnitude of the issue.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) claimed the bill wasn’t “really about” racism, but “Democrats ignoring the real issues plaguing Americans just for the opportunity to criticize President Trump.”

And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed “there is no kitchen in America that thinks this is the priority.”

Ahead of Biden’s executive order on Tuesday, Asian American advocacy groups welcomed the acknowledgment but urged Biden to take more specific steps toward enforceability, accountability and outreach to AAPI communities.

“After four years of policies targeting the Asian American community and other communities of color, and increasing xenophobic, anti-Asian rhetoric from the former president, we are relieved that one of President Biden’s first actions is to issue an order disavowing discrimination against the AAPI community,” STOP AAPI HATE said in a statement Monday, while noting that “significant work must be done to address the harm done to the AAPI community. This is a time for the Biden-Harris administration to take bold action.”

Tuesday’s executive order was part of a series of executive orders regarding racial equity and civil rights. Many of Biden’s first actions as president have been focused on reversing Trump’s racist and incendiary policies and rhetoric, such as rescinding the former president’s Muslim travel ban and restoring diversity and anti-racism trainings at federal agencies.

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