From the Chinese Exclusion Act to internment camps to the recent spike in hate crimes, the late-night host explains the long history of racism against Asian Americans.

By Tyler Aquilina
March 20, 2021 at 01:45 PM EDT
Advertisement

In the wake of the shootings in Atlanta on Tuesday that left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women, a renewed spotlight has been thrown on the history of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. As George Takei put it in EW's Asian entertainers roundtable (which was filmed before the shootings), "This is not a current phenomenon. Violence against [Asians] is as old as American history."

On Friday, Amber Ruffin turned her own spotlight on that history during her Peacock late-night show, breaking down the country's "long and well-documented" record of discrimination and violence toward Asian people. She began by noting the spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the last year, which has frequently been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and President Donald Trump's statements on the virus.

"It's really impossible — Trump — to say — Trump — why something like that — Trump — would happen," Ruffin said. "But I do know that anti-Asian violence spiked after Trump and other Republicans started referring to the coronavirus as the 'China virus' and other racist terms.

"It doesn't surprise me that this kind of rhetoric would lead to an increase in violence," she added. "Partly because I have the common sense God gave a housefly, and partly because America has a long, violent history of scapegoating Asian people."

From there, Ruffin dug into historical examples of this scapegoating, citing the central contrast of the model minority myth ("It's the dumbest, whitest thing to have a theory that 'proves' your country isn't racist that is actually a hierarchy of racists," she quipped) and the Yellow Peril myth, which gave rise to many anti-Asian policies and acts of violence throughout American history. Among other incidents, Ruffin noted Los Angeles' 1871 Chinese massacre, a mass lynching of Chinese residents in the city; the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese immigrants countries; and the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II (an experience Takei has frequently spoken about).

"America does not get to hide from its racist past or present," Ruffin said. "What we're not gonna do is act like white supremacy isn't at the root of all this. Contrary to everything this country was built on, white men don't get to decide who lives and who dies. White people don't get to decide our humanity."

Watch the full segment above, because, as Ruffin put it, "the American school system has failed us all."

Related content:

Comments