“The Senate makes it very clear that hate and discrimination against any group has no place in America” – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act with 94 Senators voting yes, 1 against, and 5 abstaining. The bill was introduced exactly a month ago by Mazie Hirono, the Democratic junior senator from Hawaii. Her introduction of the bill on the Senate floor came a week after 8 people were gunned down in 3 Atlanta area massage parlors with 6 of the victims being Asian women. The Atlanta incident was an event that sparked outrage across the nation with “Stop Asian Hate” rallies as a means of curbing anti-Asian violence and discrimination, which has seen a severe uptick since the COVID-19 pandemic blanketed the nation. The President ordered flags on all Federal properties to be flown at half-staff and he personally flew to Atlanta to meet with local leaders and Asian American business owners to discuss the shooting. The bill will go to the House of Representatives next week—championed by Democratic Representative Grace Meng of New York—where it is widely expected to easily clear the ⅔ votes requirement. My best guess is that the President will sign this into law at some point before Memorial Day. Whether or not this legislation that Senator Hirono—herself an Asian-born American—brought forth was motivated exclusively by the shootings last month is highly subjective but there is one thing for sure: Black Americans are pissed.
Let me make it clear that I fully support the bill. The amount of hate, vitriol and violence directed towards Asian Americans and Asians in general in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is abhorrent. Absolutely none of them deserve the treatment they’ve received from people who are upset at the state of the nation because of the highly contagious virus. That written, the fact that this legislation was seemingly fast-tracked through the Senate, where it received bipartisan support is troubling to all Black Americans. There is a strong sentiment that Congress has once again given us the cold shoulder. As one person on Twitter tweeted, it’s “crazy how Black people keep getting killed at alarming rates and nothing is done to reform and protect us but everyone else gets reform just by walking through the door and asking for it”. A lot of people who look like me and have the same racial identity are up in arms because the perception of the hate, vitriol and violence against Asians and Asian Americans has emerged over the last 13 months—something that Congresswoman Meng even alluded to yesterday—and we’re on the brink of a new and possibly far-reaching law that mostly benefits about 6% of the population, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates. All the while, Black Americans have been terrorized, tormented, killed, and openly discriminated against in this country for 400 years and there still isn’t any legislation that is exclusive, tangible, and concrete in terms of addressing the hate, vitriol, and violence directed to us.
What frustrates me the most is that many of the Congressional leaders openly campaigned last year on the platform of Black Americans needing an exclusive equal rights law in the wake of the George Floyd thing. Many of them were in our churches, in our grocery stores, in our gymnasiums and community centers, and even on our doorsteps asking for our vote to either thrust them into office or keep them in office for another 2-6 years…especially after former President Trump had his epic flub on national television concerning White supremacy and the Proud Boys. The return on our investment has been minimal, at best. The really sad part about it that this has become something of the norm as it relates to Congress and Black Americans. It’s not like Congress hasn’t passed legislation that gave some kind of relief to entire races or ethnicities of people suffering. Think the Indochina Migration & Refugee Assistance Act, which allowed refugees displaced by the Vietnam War to enter the U.S. and receive relocation aid and financial assistance. Think the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which imposed sanctions on South Africa for their blatant racism against Black South Africans while Black Americans were still being tormented domestically. Think the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which gave reparations to Japanese-American survivors and descendants impacted by the World War II internment camps. Think the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act, which sought to return all Native American cultural items to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated tribes, villages, and organizations. All of those laws were definitely justified, I won’t take anything away from them in that regard but I don’t feel any of those groups suffered as long as Black Americans have suffered. In fact, if you combined them, they still wouldn’t have suffered nearly ¼ of the time Black Americans have suffered. Even f’n sharks have more rights and protections in this country than Black Americans, courtesy of the Shark Conservation Act signed by former President Obama in 2011.
At the end of the day, all Black Americans want is to be entirely equal without any reservations, any exceptions, any special exemptions. It’s unfortunate that we may be waiting many, many, many more years to be close to being on equal footing with other Americans. While holed up in the Birmingham Municipal Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about the word “wait” in his famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”. He penned that “it rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity” and that it “almost always meant ‘Never’”. At this point, I feel as if Black Americans will never get the equality that we’ve long sought and we’ll always be just a rung below everybody else in this country.