Illustration by Jonathan Hill
RACISM DECRIED. People listen to and film senators Jon Ossoff
(D-Ga.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) outside an Emory University
campus building after attending a meeting with President Joe
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last month in Atlanta.
Biden and Harris offered solace to Asian Americans and denounced
the scourge of racism at times hidden "in plain sight" as they
visited Atlanta, just days after a white gunman killed eight
people, most of them Asian-American women. (AP Photo/Patrick
From The Asian Reporter, V31, #4 (April 5, 2021), page
"Speak out": Biden, Harris decry racism during
By Jonathan Lemire, Jeff Amy, and Zeke Miller
The Associated Press
ATLANTA — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala
Harris offered solace to Asian Americans and denounced the
scourge of racism at times hidden "in plain sight" as they
visited Atlanta, just days after a white gunman killed eight
people, most of them Asian-American women.
Addressing the nation after a roughly 80-minute meeting with
Asian-American state legislators and other leaders, Biden said
it was "heart-wrenching" to listen to their stories of the fear
among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders amid what he called
a "skyrocketing spike" of harassment and violence against them.
"We have to change our hearts," he said. "Hate can have no
safe harbor in America."
Biden called on all Americans to stand up to bigotry when
they see it, adding: "Our silence is complicity. We cannot be
"They’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated, and harassed;
they’ve been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed,"
Biden said of Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
The president also called the shootings an example of a
"public health crisis of gun violence in this country," as his
administration has come under scrutiny from some in his own
party for not moving as swiftly as promised on reforming the
nation’s gun laws.
Harris, the first person of South Asian descent to hold
national office, said that while the motive of the shooter
remains under investigation, these facts are clear: Six of the
eight killed were of Asian descent and seven of them were women.
"Racism is real in America. And it has always been.
Xenophobia is real in America, and always has been. Sexism,
too," she said. "The president and I will not be silent. We will
not stand by. We will always speak out against violence, hate
crimes, and discrimination, wherever and whenever it occurs."
She added that everyone has "the right to be recognized as an
American. Not as the other, not as them. But as us."
Before leaving Washington, Biden declared his support for the
COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a bill that would strengthen the
government’s reporting and response to hate crimes and provide
resources to Asian-American communities.
Georgia state representative Marvin Lim, who was among a
group of Asian-American leaders who met with Biden and Harris in
Atlanta, said the group "didn’t really talk about hate crime
sentencing and all of these things there’s been a lot of
"We really talked about the grief people are feeling, the
fear people are feeling, the possible responses to that," Lim
said. "The discussion felt very affirming."
State senator Michelle Au, a Chinese-American Democrat who
represents parts of Atlanta’s northern suburbs, was moved by the
presence of Harris, saying: "Not only that she was there
listening to us, but that she also understood these issues in a
very intimate way, that in some ways you can’t teach, that you
can’t teach that sort of lived experience. So we felt that she
was going to be an incredible advocate on our behalf in the
Their trip was planned before the shooting, as part of a
victory lap aimed at selling the benefits of pandemic relief
legislation. But Biden and Harris instead spent much of their
visit consoling a community whose growing voting power helped
secure their victory in Georgia and beyond.
Activists have seen a rise of racist attacks. Nearly 3,800
incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a
California-based reporting center for Asian Americans and
Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups, between
March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021.
Biden and Harris both implicitly criticized former President
Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the
"For the last year we’ve had people in positions of
incredible power scapegoating Asian Americans," said Harris,
"people with the biggest pulpits, spreading this kind of hate."
"We’ve always known words have consequences," Biden said. "It
is the ‘coronavirus.’ Full stop."
In his first primetime address to the nation as president
last month — five days before the Atlanta killings at three
metro-area massage businesses — Biden called attacks on Asian
Biden also used the visit to tour the headquarters of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he received a
briefing on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and delivered a
pep talk to the agency’s scientists.
"We owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude and we will for a
long, long, long time," Biden said, adding that under his
administration, "science is back" driving policy to combat the
Though the originally planned political event to tout the
$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill was delayed, Biden still met
with Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, Democrats’
likely 2022 candidate for governor, as Republicans in the state
legislature push several proposals to make it harder to vote in
"The battle for the right to vote is never, ever over," Biden
said. "It’s not over here in this state of Georgia. So we’re
gonna fight again."
He also met with newly minted Democratic senators Jon Ossoff
and Raphael Warnock and Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
As the fastest-growing racial demographic in the U.S.
electorate, Asian Americans are gaining political influence
across the country. In California, two Korean-American
Republican women made history with their congressional
victories. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus,
typically dominated by Democrats, has its largest roster ever,
including Asian American and Pacific Islander members and others
who represent significant numbers of Asian Americans.
"We’re becoming increasingly more visible and active in the
political ecosystem," said Au, a Democrat who represents part of
the growing, diversifying suburbs north of Atlanta. Yet, Au
said, "What I’ve heard personally, and what I have felt, is that
people sometimes don’t tend to listen to us."
Au said a White House spotlight, especially amid tragedy, is
welcomed by a community often overshadowed in national
conversations about diversity. She noted Trump and other
Republicans merely brushed off charges of racism when they
dubbed the coronavirus the "China virus" because of its origins.
"To have them talk about it in this way, so publicly, and to
say AAPI, or to note that our communities are going through
difficult times, is huge," Au said.
Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ben
Nadler and Bill Barrow contributed to this report.