Racism: The Real Virus

Michaela William ‘24, Staff Writer

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has upended millions of lives.  People have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus.  However, another virus has infected people.  Racism, more specifically Sinophobia, towards Asians has become more pronounced.  By Due to COVID-19’s origins in China, many Americans are blaming Asians for this pandemic.    

     Since the start of the pandemic last spring, Asians have faced racist violence at a higher rate than in previous years.  The NYPD reports that hate crimes towards Asians have jumped by 1,900% in New York alone.  Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting database created at the beginning of the pandemic as a response to the increase in racial violence, received 2,808 reports of anti-Asian discrimination between March 19 and December 31, 2020. The violence has continued into 2021, and President Joe Biden signed an executive order denouncing anti-Asian discrimination shortly after taking office in January.

     Many attribute this growing xenophobic rhetoric to the previous president, Donald Trump.  By calling the coronavirus the “China virus” and “Kung flu,” he has successfully reignited Anti-Asian racism in a more violent and apparent way.  In doing so, Trump has followed in a long American history.  However, this racist and xenophobic rhetoric is not new for America.  In fact, this dates back to the 19th and 20th centuries.

     After the Civil War, Chinese immigrants came to America.  They worked as laborers on the transcontinental railroad and came for the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855.  During the early stages of the gold rush, when surface gold was plentiful, the Chinese were tolerated by white people, if not favored over other minorities.  However, as gold became harder to find and competition increased, animosity towards the Chinese and other foreigners increased.  After being forcibly driven from mining by a combination of state legislators and other miners, the Chinese moved to cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.  There, they took up low-wage labor, such as restaurant and laundry work.  With the post-Civil War economy on the decline, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized by labor leader Denis Kearney.  As more Chinese immigrants settled in America, the anti-Asian rhetoric increased.  Many newspapers introduced the notion that Asian immigrants were trying to take over the West and referred to Asians as the “Yellow Peril.”  This growing fear and hatred towards Asians prompted President Chester A. Arthur to sign the Chinese Exclusion Act on May 6, 1882.  After the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, a period known as the “Driving Out” era was born. During this period, many Americans physically forced Chinese communities to flee to other areas. Large scale violence in Western states included The Rocks Springs Chinese Massacre of 1885 and the Hells Canyon Massacre of 1887.  Hundreds of people were brutally murdered during this time period.  This federal law banned Asians from emigrating to America.  It also alienated the Asians that already lived here.  This law helped further maintain the idea that Asians are “perpetual foreigners” in America.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943.

     As COVID-19 relentlessly attacks innocents, racism has quickly followed suit.  One might think that a global pandemic would make humanity rally together.  Instead, it has been used as an opportunity to sow division and hate.  The coronavirus attacks everyone.  Pointing fingers at people and committing acts of violence will not make the virus go away.  Everyone must stand up against this intolerance to make a safer, better world for all people.