Updated: Dec 31, 2020
With a pandemic as grave as COVID-19, headlines and cover stories have all narrowed in on the
pathological lens of this disease. Thousands of tragic deaths across the globe have fueled a newfound unity within medical collaboration and research. Yet, with the onset of this serious illness comes another great sickness: racism.
The spread of the novel coronavirus initiated in late December with the numerous deaths and mandated lockdown in Wuhan of eastern China. Unfortunately, this caused many to develop an immediate association between Asian ethnicity and infection of the virus, which has increased unsettling backlash against Asian Americans. American political leaders have even started to term the disease the “Chinese virus" or “Kung-flu”, while federal law enforcement warned the nation of a significant increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Earlier this year, in February, Singaporean Johnathan Mok was brutally assaulted while walking in London. He was kicked and punched, left with a swollen eye and the cruel memory of the assailant’s reason behind the racially motivated attack: “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country” (Russell, 2020). Later on March 14, members of an Asian American family in Texas, including a two-year-old and six-year-old, were stabbed. The culprit had assumed the family was infected by coronavirus due to the family’s race (Margolin, 2020). Similarly, in New York City, Asian American communities have suffered from an increase in verbal and physical attacks. Racially offensive cartoons have also surfaced on the internet, depicting violent images and racial slurs. It is becoming apparent that discrimination is a devastating effect of the coronavirus outbreak. Gregg Orton, director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, urges, “We need to stop dismissing this. It’s easy to dismiss racism when it doesn’t impact you… This is people’s safety and it’s affecting their lives” (Margolin, 2020). In the wake of this pandemic, racism has come to extreme measures and put many communities at risk.
Thankfully, people have started to rise against xenophobic actions and comments. The organization Phenomenal Woman recently initiated a campaign against racism, which has been publicly supported by multiple Asian Americans, including fashion designer Phillip Lim and journalist Ann Curry. Certain celebrities have also chosen to use their social platforms as a way to speak out. Actor Daniel Dae Kim tweeted that "the coronavirus doesn't care what race, gender, religion or sexuality we are” (O’Kane, 2020). Thus, there is no reason for violence to arise out of an ignorant association between a specific race and this virus. Actor Joey King also tweeted, “This virus is not an excuse for racism. You do not get to call it a ‘Chinese virus’ or a ‘China virus’ that’s verbal abuse to Chinese people across the globe. It is called Covid-19 or coronavirus. Those are the medical terms for this virus. And that’s all we should be calling it [sic]”.
It is unfortunate that racism is becoming normalized in the division of people within nations and throughout the world. The rise in racial hate crimes desperately needs to be addressed and calls for attention to a continuous pattern in human behavior in times of crises. It is a shame that throughout historical pandemics and conflicts, certain groups, minorities in particular, are forced to become the scapegoats. These periods and sentiments do not dissipate quickly either. From African Americans during the aftermath of slavery and racial segregation to Muslims during the Islamophobic aftermath of 9/11 to Asian Americans during the aftermath of the Yellow Peril sentiment and coronavirus, prejudice and bias are insensible and inexcusable. Assumptions and the mere placement of blame for a biological disease exacerbates the vaguery of a line between panic and caution. Meanwhile, coronavirus represents a global battle. COVID-19 should no longer be recognized as the “Chinese virus” but as an international virus. It is now the virus of China, of America, of Australia, of Italy, of South Korea. A rise in racism during these desperate times creates a climate of hate and endangerment when there needs to be an atmosphere of unity and coalition. Now is not a time to be divided but to be one. Coronavirus does not distinguish its effect on different races, ethnicities, or nationalities. All patients of Covid-19 are humans, and that in itself is surely a call to end this violence.
Margolin, J. (2020, March 27). FBI warns of potential surge in hate crimes against asian americans amid coronavirus. Retrieved April 11, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/US/fbi-warns-potential-surge-hate-crimes-asian-americans/story?id=69831920
O'Kane, C. (2020, March 27). Asian americans speak out after rise in hate crimes during coronavirus: "We are all human. we are all one." Retrieved April 9, 2020, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-asian-americans-report-racism-anti-asian-hate-after-trum-china-daniel-dae-kim-jeannie-mai-speak-out/
Russell, A. (2020, March 17). The rise of coronavirus hate crimes. Retrieved April 9, 2020, from https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-the-uk/the-rise-of-coronavirus-hate-crimes