Why South Asians Feel Abandoned in the Anti-Asian Hate Conversation

The recent spike in and discourse around hate crimes against East and Southeast Asians in North America has brought up familiar feelings for South Asians. But not all feel like they’re part of the conversation.

Samira Sadeque

June 9, 2021

Why South Asians Feel Abandoned in the Anti-Asian Hate Conversation
Memorial for a Muslim family killed by a driver in Ontario, Canada (Photo by Seyit Aydogan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

On Sunday, June 6, a family of five was out for a walk in London, Ontario, Canada when 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman ran them over with his truck. Salman Afzaal (46), Madiha Salman (44), Yumna Afzaal (15), and Mr. Afzaal’s mother (74) all died in the attack. The sole survivor is a 9-year-old who is undergoing treatment at a hospital. London Police Chief Steve Williams said that the family was targeted in the premeditated attack “because of their Islamic faith.” Earlier in the year, in April, Shadman Sakib, a 28-year-old Bengali New Yorker, told The Juggernaut that he was punched in the face as he was exiting a train in lower Manhattan; his attacker had been riding in the same train car. In May, two Sikh teenagers (Yuvraj Bindra and his friend Chaz) were attacked while at a mall on Long Island.

Attacks on people who look like the Afzaal family, Sakib, or Bindra aren’t new. Post-9/11 America saw a rise in hate crimes against South Asian and Middle Eastern Americans. Even before 9/11, in the early 1900s, the Asian Exclusion League targeted South Asians, Chinese, and Japanese Americans. The U.S. Congress, in a 1911 report, declared Hindus “the least desirable race of immigrants thus far admitted to the United States.” Nearly 20 years since 9/11, despite underreporting overall, the number of attacks against Asian Americans has spiked monumentally, driven by anti-China rhetoric during the coronavirus pandemic. Even as the U.S. is emerging from the pandemic, in just the last few months, several videos emerged showing brutal instances of assault against Asian Americans.

The recent spike in and discourse around hate crimes against East and Southeast Asians has brought up familiar feelings for South Asians. But not all feel like they’re part of the conversation. Who, in the narrative of North America, is Asian? And who is considered vulnerable to anti-Asian hate crimes?

Sakib recalled that when someone threw bottles at a Chinese American friend, he considered it racially motivated. But Sakib is wary of calling what happened to him a hate crime. “I told the cops that I don’t really want to call it a hate crime, but it’s more than likely that it probably was,” he said.

According to a recent Carnegie Endowment report, “Indian Americans regularly encounter discrimination. One in two Indian Americans reports being discriminated against in the past one year, with discrimination based on skin color identified as the most common form of bias.”