An infectious power is raging through the world, into our countries, cities, and neighborhoods. It’s a highly contagious threat that prompts us to shut our doors against our neighbors. It plagues and sickens the human spirit. But I’m not talking about COVID-19.
Since the first case of the virus, not one but two pandemics have seized the world. The coronavirus demands social responsibility to distance ourselves from each other and practice thorough hygiene because of its high contagion rate and debilitating effects on its victims. Clearly the virus itself does not discriminate, but it is prompting a plague of massive discrimination against East Asians across the world. In just America alone, Asian American advocacy groups and researchers have seen a surge of reported assaults against Chinese in America, Chinese Americans, and other peoples of East Asian heritage who are lumped together out of ignorance. Engaging in their daily business, they are berated on the street with disdainful stares, violent expletives, death threats, and demands to go back to China. Many Asian business owners, particularly owners of Chinese restaurants, have lost tremendous business. In addition, Asian Americans fear leaving their houses as reports of physical attacks emerge on social media and the news. At best, Asian people in America are spat upon when they are physically assaulted. At worst, they are the victims of much more violent physical abuse. Newspapers and reporters account horrifying stories of a teenage boy sent to the emergency room after he was beaten up by his peers, a woman kicked and punched in a subway, a man attacked in front of his child, another screamed at on the subway and sprayed with Febreze. In order to protect themselves, people of East Asian heritage in America sadly have little choice but to minimize themselves and prepare for future attacks. As some seek the safety of their homes others create buddy systems when they go out or flock to gun stores. Once they enter a public space, they suppress coughs or refuse to wear masks in order to minimize attention and accusations of having the virus.
The extreme hatred against and subsequent fear of the East Asian American community prompts us to consider why such hate crime exists. COVID-19 is rampantly infecting people in Italy right now, yet Italian restaurants have retained far more business than their Chinese counterparts, and there have been few reported acts of aggression against Italian Americans in comparison to Asian Americans. Although the first cases emerged in Wuhan, China, to blame the Chinese for the virus and assuming that all of them carry it would disacknowledge the global nature of the epidemic and the influence of international airplane travel in spreading it. Some might argue that the initial media frenzy around the virus in China planted the first seeds of paranoia and suspicion in the hearts of people across the globe. Others accuse President Trump and his insistence upon calling the virus the “Chinese Virus” an influencer and exasperation of anti-Asian sentiment and blaming of the Chinese.
Ultimately, in periods of insecurity and fear, both the best and worst of humanity emerges. The attacks upon the East Asian population demonstrates the human tendency to cast blame in times like this. However, in this anxious period, we must seek to demonstrate the better side of human nature. The recent hate crimes serve as a reminder that COVID-19 isn’t the only source of injury present within our society right now. We may not be trained health care workers to bring healing to our nation right now by fighting against the disease of racism and offering support to East Asians and East Asian Americans right now.