Racism escalates towards the Asian American community amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Margaret Valenti writes.
After 9/11, U.S. society, in general, was quick to blame the Muslim community, igniting an era of profiling and racial violence. With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus, some people in the U.S. refuse to eat at Asian restaurants, a young Asian couple took a beating on a subway in Philadelphia which is one in a string of recent attacks across the country and around the world, and the media was quick to call this virus “the Chinese Coronavirus”, “the Wuhan Coronavirus”, “Kung-flu”, or “the foreign virus.”
The President echoes these terms reinforcing these sentiments even as he downplays the potential impact of the pandemic in the US on national television.
It is a myth to believe that Asian Americans do not experience racism in the U.S., or not as much as other communities of color. The racism presents itself differently, but it is still there, ready to appear whenever people feel threatened. Whether its Pearl Harbor, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, 9/11, SARs or COVID-19, the U.S. is quick to turn its back on its Asian communities, innocent people who do nothing wrong.
Chinese American CBS News’ White House Correspondent Weijia Jiang tweeted that “this morning a White House official referred to the #Coronavirus as the ‘Kung-Flu’ to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back”.
This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the “Kung-Flu” to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) March 17, 2020
Chinese American New Yorker staff writer Jiayang Fan tweeted that when she took out the trash at her residence a “man walked by on sidewalk & in interest of social distancing, I said, ‘sorry, go ahead.’ ‘F****** CHINESE,’ he yelled loud enough I could hear him over aide's voice on phone . . . ‘Yea, I'm talking to you, Chinese b****,’ he continued. ‘UR F****** CHINESE.’ Man didn't seem drunk or mentally ill. I was so breathless I couldn’t make sound on phone for long while. I was asked on phone if I was OK. I couldn't say anything for a long minute. I wasn't offended. I was afraid. I was worried he knew where I lived.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump continues to use the term “Chinese coronavirus” on Twitter, tweeting Wednesday morning that “I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China - against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News’ new narrative is disgraceful & false!” He also gave a news conference Wednesday afternoon where he defended the use of the phrases “Kung-flu” and “Chinese Coronavirus” claiming that Asian Americans would agree with the respective labels: “I think they would probably agree with it one hundred percent,” he said during the news conference.
In the interest of full clarity, many criticize the administration’s initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak and blame the administration for the lack of testing kits and other necessary supplies. The hashtag #ChineseAmericans is currently trending on Twitter in the U.S. in response to Donald Trump’s and others’ rhetoric surrounding the virus, pointing out the harms.
Terms similar to “Chinese coronavirus” only feed into the narratives that reinforce racism against Asian Americans, specifically Chinese Americans.
The truth is, in the U.S., all it takes for people of color to experience racial violence, whether physical or verbal, is being in the right place at the right time, which is really depressing. For most people, it seems so obvious that one should not physically and verbally attack others based on their perceived race, or use racist and xenophobic language or images at a time like this, but for some people, it is clearly less obvious. The Asian American Journalists Association recently released a set of guidelines for the language, images, and contexts journalists should use when covering the COVID-19 crisis to help mitigate and counter any xenophobic and racist ideas. More than 200 Civil Rights groups demanded that Congress and the Senate publicly reject xenophobic and racist rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 crisis to counter hysteria.
It is hard to produce words to comfort anyone at a time like the present when there is ineffective leadership to manage the COVID-19 crisis. “Wash your hands and don’t be racist” is a good start, but as a country, the U.S. can do better. Congress could pass another resolution condemning the President’s racist language as they did in the past.
Community leaders could do more than offer their solidarity to their Asian communities and go beyond saying racism has no place there; leaders could work with Asian communities to address their concerns and protect them wherever they can; they could also encourage the public to takeout from Asian restaurants, as those are the restaurants that will be most affected during this crisis.
As this virus continues to spread, the U.S. community will need to stand together in solidarity, not otherize a group that had nothing to do with the spread of the virus in the first place. Everyone in the U.S. deserves to feel safe, and right now, as insecurity rises exponentially throughout the population, the Asian American community is not safe at a time when health and safety should be the number one priority.
The U.S. needs to do its part to make sure the Asian community, and every other community in this country, feels safe during these uncertain times or anytime.
Counter racism when you see it, this recent exchange on an NYC subway is an example of de-escalation and combating racism as it is happening. Make sure the U.S. lives up to the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, regardless of the current circumstances. Be an ally against the real enemy, the Coronavirus — wash your hands, practice social distancing and, most importantly, be considerate and kind to others. Remember, we are all in this together.
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