“Kung Flu” Was Internet Humor. Now It Feels Like An Attack

President Trump drew widespread backlash for his use of “kung flu,” a racist nickname for the coronavirus. Now, Trump supporters adopt the term as a rallying cry. Candy Chan reports on how the rallying cry affects Asian-American, specifically Chinese-American communities.

Photo: AdobeStock.com

In March, just as lockdown tightened and the U.S. finally braced itself for a global pandemic, I sent someone a meme about “kung flu.”

I did not know then that “kung flu” would be under intense scrutiny as President Trump weaponized the inherently-racist joke to form a “rallying cry” for his supporters. Three months ago, I perceived the term to be harmless (though I recognize that the humor of it is explicitly tied to outdated Chinese stereotypes, so it was always harmful). Now, the term deliberately ostracizes people who look like me.

When Trump first used the term “kung flu” at his campaign rally in Tulsa last weekend, he drew widespread backlash for using a racist slur, an even worse version of his “Chinese virus.” Yet three days later, Trump’s young supporters who showed up to his event in Phoenix showed just how eager they were to adopt the term.

Trump started his segment on the “many names” of the coronavirus and before he could even say it, audience members shouted “KUNG FLU!”

“Kung flu—yeah,” Trump said, prompting cheers. “Kung flu.” 

It hit me then, seeing a crowd of mainly white students yelling the phrase, how real their hatred of Chinese people could be. It made me question my own safety and security because they were not the typical racist old white men, they were people my age. People I could run into at the grocery store, or at a bar on a night out, or in my classroom. “Kung flu” was internet humor to me, but in the course of just one week, it manifested itself as a way to invalidate my sense of belonging in this country. 

Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks self-reported hostile incidents of anti-Asian sentiments since late March, says that it received more than 2,100 reports. The bulk of the reports are incidents of verbal harassment and their report also shows that women are harassed 2.4 times more than men.

One report read: “A woman sitting at a bus stop was screaming at myself and other Asians that she saw walking… She said that we were ‘dirty Chinese,’ that we were trying to take over the U.S.”

Trump keeps claiming himself to be the voice of the “silent majority.” It seems that those harboring anti-Asian and anti-Black sentiments are now anything but silent, and Trump is a megaphone for their racism.

 

 


 

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