COVID-19 pandemic fuels Asian American discrimination

A sign in a subway station in Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood condemns coronavirus-based racism and encourages people to "fight the virus, not the people" // Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.

As news spread that the deadly coronavirus originated in China, more people have been openly discriminatory towards people of Asian descent. Chinese Americans have found themselves victims of abuse and humiliation as they become associated with the virus simply because of their race. Other Asian Americans, including those of Taiwanese, Filippino, and Korean descent, are being grouped together with the Chinese American community based on similar physical features and the ignorance of thousands.

President Donald Trump has referred to the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” on Twitter and in briefings, which only contributed to the prejudice felt by many Asians. Trump eventually clarified that Asian American citizens should not be blamed for the spread of the virus and need to be protected, but hate-fueled attacks have continued to rise nonetheless.

In an FBI analysis obtained by ABC News, federal officials warn of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. According to The New York Times, Asian American advocacy groups and researchers say there has already been a surge of reported verbal and physical assaults.

ABC News reports that the nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate has logged more than 1,100 reports of coronavirus discrimination against Asian Americans since March 19. Nearly 70 percent of the reports are for verbal harassments. Many attacks go unreported, however, due to the fear and shock felt by victims. 

The acts of discrimination range from condescending looks and stares, to a defaced Mulan movie poster in California, and a “Take the corona back” message spraypainted outside of an Asian restaurant in Washington. Some people have even reported being coughed or spat on, which is not only an insulting gesture but also a health hazard. 

The attacks have also become physical. A 16-year-old boy in California was assaulted by bullies who accused him of having coronavirus. A man stabbed three members of an Asian American family because he believed they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.” A woman in New York was brutally beaten in a subway station for wearing a mask. A Korean woman in Manhattan was yelled at, punched, and had her jaw dislocated because she was not wearing a mask.

“It is absolutely terrible. People should be focusing on staying healthy and spreading love. They should not be pushing hate on others for a virus that is out of our control,” Kristina Long (’24) said.

Hate has also spread virtually. The Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks hate speech online, recently reported a dramatic rise in Chinese slurs on 4chan, an online platform frequently displaying offensive posts, according to CNN. The group suggested that this increase relates to the many conspiracy theories that villainize Asians, including that the coronavirus was created by China’s government.

The Real co-host Jeannie Mai told People magazine that she was disgusted by vulgar anti-Asian comments on her social media. She encourages everyone, not just Asians, to stand up against hate and use this experience to educate others about racism and the effect it has on people, reminding her audience that “hate will get you sick, even if the virus doesn’t.”

As businesses are forced to lay off workers and shorten hours, Asian-style restaurants have been hit especially hard. One restaurant, Jade Garden in Seattle’s Chinatown district, had its windows shattered in the middle of the night according to NBC News, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage. Chinese restaurants worldwide have also experienced abrupt drops in business as consumers question the cleanliness of the food, fueled by misconceptions and false stereotypes about Chinese culture.

Many Asian Americans have become afraid to go out in public. Some have even second-guessed wearing a mask in public, as it can bring unwanted attention and rude comments, and they are willing to risk their own health to avoid physical attacks. Others feel they must take extra precautions to protect themselves, with The New York Times claiming gun shop owners are seeing a surge of first-time Chinese-American buyers nationwide.

The attacks have made Asian Americans feel more helpless and vulnerable than ever before. Jiayang Fan, writer for The New Yorker, tweeted that she has become hesitant to leave her house following an incident where she was cursed at while taking out her trash. Many sources have compared this situation to the prejudice faced by Muslims and South Asians after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“People are always trying to find someone to blame and pick on to make themselves feel good. It is unfair and wrong. Nothing good is going to come out of physically attacking them. Harassment is never right,” Maria Cabrera (’24) said.

In response to these attacks, many have taken action to help protect Asian Americans. One New York man started a buddy-system through Facebook for Asians who are afraid to take public transportation alone. To ease paranoia, volunteers have begun to patrol San Francisco’s Chinatown as part of the SF Peace Collective, according to urban initiative CityLab.

Many have taken to social media to provide support for Asian Americans, with celebrities including Lana Condor and Cardi B expressing their solidarity. Some have suggested that Asian Americans prove their patriotism, including former presidential candidate Andrew Yang who recently stated “we need to embrace and show our American-ness,” according to Vox.

The Washington Post says that discriminatory hashtags such as #BlameChina and #ChineseVirus have recently trended on Twitter, reflecting the widespread increase in hostility towards China. On the other hand, campaigns like #WashTheHate and #SaveChinatown were created to combat racism and promote support for Asians who have experienced discrimination. 

In times of crisis, it is easy to shift the blame onto others and search for a scapegoat when in reality we must come together.

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