Virulent Hate Project: FAQ

Based on feedback on initial findings from the Virulent Hate Project, researchers provided responses to the most frequently asked questions.

What is the specific focus of this research?

At the Virulent Hate Project, we research anti-Asian racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and stigmatization during the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the public conversation has focused on the rise in violent hate crimes against Asian and Asian American people, we take a broader approach and study recent events with attention to the more fundamental issue of anti-Asian racism.

In particular, we aim to understand how contemporary anti-Asian racism has related directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. We study how Asian and Asian American people have been stigmatized as a public health threat and scapegoated for the coronavirus. We research how coronavirus-related racism has taken multiple forms and has harmed people of Asian descent in a variety of ways. We also study how Asian and Asian American people have responded to anti-Asian racism through activism, community organizing, and policy advocacy. Because we focus on anti-Asian racism in the specific context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we limit our research to events beginning in 2020.

What types of incidents do you study? What’s the difference between racism, hate incidents, and hate crimes?

Guiding the work of the Virulent Hate Project is the premise that all forms of anti-Asian racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and stigmatization do harm. For this reason, we choose to include a significant variety of incidents in our research.

Much public attention has focused on hate crimes, especially violent hate crimes. Hate crimes, by definition, are crimes that also involve bias. Some events that have occurred during the pandemic have been investigated as anti-Asian hate crimes; for example, the stabbing of a Burmese American family in Texas in March 2020.

However, our focus is on anti-Asian racism, and the vast majority of acts of anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic have not been crimes, nor have they been acts of violence. The distinction between hate crimes and incidents of anti-Asian racism is important. For example, when Asian and Asian American people are called a racist slur or are shunned and wrongly accused of spreading the coronavirus, they are experiencing acts of racism, but they are not necessarily experiencing crimes. For this reason, we take care to study, count, and label these events as “incidents,” not as “hate crimes.”

Anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic has been expressed in a variety of ways, and the incidents that we have found in our research include acts of verbal harassment, avoidance, barring from businesses, violence, physical harassment, online harassment, vandalism, and the sharing of racist notes and false rumors. Since our focus is on anti-Asian racism, we also study incidents when individuals and organizations use stigmatizing rhetoric that can contribute to anti-Asian bias and reproduce negative perceptions of Asian and Asian American people.1

Because incidents of anti-Asian racism have varied in type and severity, we do our best to explain the wide range of events and treat them separately. We share details that distinguish the categories of incidents from one another, offer illustrative examples of types of incidents, provide descriptions of specific incidents, include links to news sources, and create maps and other resources that help our audience understand the full spectrum of ways that anti-Asian racism has been expressed. At the same time, we seek to connect these individual events to the central theme of our work: that Asian and Asian American people have experienced racism, discrimination, stigmatization, and scapegoating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why do you use news media?

For our research, we search two news databases (ProQuest and NewsBank) and review thousands of news articles that report on the issue of anti-Asian racism during the pandemic. We use news media for several reasons.

First, searching and reviewing news media is one of the most efficient ways to gather information about diverse Asian American experiences. It is a particularly useful method for identifying and tracking acts of racial discrimination. Analyzing news media is how Dr. Russell Jeung of Stop AAPI Hate first began to study anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.2 Other groups (e.g., the Anti-Defamation League, the Mapping Islamophobia Project) have used news media to track incidents of discrimination and racism, too.

Using news media is also well-suited to our specific focus on studying the issue of racism. We do not study police reports because most incidents of anti-Asian racism are not crimes that involve law enforcement, and these events are therefore not reflected in police records.

Analyzing news media offers researchers the additional benefit of being able to study news narratives about anti-Asian racism. Just as important in understanding the phenomenon of anti-Asian racism is understanding how the news media has covered and reported on this issue and, in the process, shaped the public conversation about this complex problem.

Finally, using news media allows individuals and communities to hear stories about COVID-related racism and discrimination in their own locales. We go beyond the big numbers to share hundreds of stories of how Asian Americans are experiencing and responding to the recent surge in anti-Asian racism.

To be sure, analyzing news media has important limitations, as all sources of information do. We do our best to be thorough in our search of news databases and careful in our analysis of individual news articles, but we acknowledge that most incidents of anti-Asian racism never get reported in the news and that the events represented in our reports and maps are far from a complete account of anti-Asian racism. Moreover, we acknowledge that the information we gather through the news is mediated by the reporting practices of individual journalists and publications. However, we hope that our work, when paired with findings and analysis from other researchers, will contribute to improved understanding of the issue of anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How can people learn more about your methods and sources?

See the complete bibliography of the news articles we analyzed for 2020.

Learn about our methods for searching and tagging incidents.

All of the incidents with a location are on our trends and maps pages.

Please contact us if you have any questions by using our contact form or emailing us at virulenthate@umich.edu.

Endnotes

  1. Other researchers have found that stigmatizing terms such as “Chinese virus” have increased subconscious beliefs that Asian Americans are “perpetual foreigners,” which can contribute to anti-Asian bias and discrimination. See Sean Darling-Hammond et al., “After ‘The China Virus’ Went Viral: Racially Charged Coronavirus Coverage and Trends in Bias Against Asian Americans,” Health Education & Behavior, September 10, 2020, 109019812095794, https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198120957949.
  2. Kara Takasaki, “Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center: A Model of Collective Leadership and Community Advocacy,” Journal of Asian American Studies 23, no. 3 (2020): 341–51, https://doi.org/10.1353/jaas.2020.0028.