Coronavirus pandemic should make people wary of increased xenophobia
A report conducted by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council “Stop AAPI Hate” website showed 673 reports of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) discrimination from March 19 to 25 alone. Cases vary in range from being coughed/spat upon, to verbal harassment and physical assault.
One viral video shows a New York subway passenger moving from his seat and said, “Tell him to move!” in reference to an Asian man near him. He then proceeds to grab a can of Febreze and sprays it in the direction of the Asian man.
This is just one of rather tamer examples of increased racism and xenophobia, which has also included acts of assault and other verbal abuse.
While these cases differ from case to case, location to location, one message is clear: Xenophobia and hate crimes aimed at Asian Americans are on the rise recently and show no signs of stopping.
It wasn't long before President Donald J. Trump referred to the virus as the “Chinese virus" (I will not be commenting on the President and his character, but the implications of his actions). Today’s rhetoric of labeling the disease as a “Chinese virus” leads to people feeling uneasiness around different ethnic groups. It plants the seeds of distrust and suspicion around Asian Americans, alongside their communities, their businesses and as individuals. It reduces them to outsiders, leading people to believe Asians are as insidious as the virus we are all fighting against.
The connection between germs and immigrants in the United States is not a foreign concept. It dates back to the 19th century, where Chinese immigrants were considered disease carriers. Eventually, it led to the Chinese Exclusion Act which effectively made Chinese immigration illegal.
This is also not exclusive to the Chinese, as Haitians were another minority facing said treatment. This goes back to the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic in the '80s, where Haitians and their blood were labeled as "high risk."
It makes sense to want to avoid people carrying the disease, for self-preservation and to live on. While that is the case, it's problematic to profile people with even the slightest resemblance of Asian phenotypes as Chinese and therefore possibly being a carrier of disease. This leaves people avoiding Asian businesses as a whole, crippling them way beyond even once the pandemic is over.
This brings me to my next point: It has impacted Asian businesses big and small. For example, the bubble tea chain, Boba Guys, had to shut stores on March 20 and it’s still unclear when, or if, it will reopen. “Hopefully this is a see you later, and not a goodbye” said Andrew Chau, one of the founders, "Most small business owners are American dream owners. So many of those are broken and dying right now. It’s beyond my company, it’s a whole sector — burrito places, mom and pop shops, they don’t have the same runway or visibility. What’s causing panic and anxiety is uncertainty.”
Asian Americans are also facing a dilemma: wear a mask and risk being victimized by bringing extra attention to themselves or don't wear a mask and bear scrutiny all the same.
It goes without saying that the coronavirus is a respiratory disease and will transfer from host to host, regardless of race. It will make its presence, regardless of whether you are having your latest craving for Chinese food or enjoying a burger.
At this point in time, while we are all separated in self-isolation, it is important we join together and make our voices heard when there are injustices in our communities.
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