Coronavirus fear is no excuse for bigotry against Asians


Sofia Bennetts

Author Lulu Zhang is a sophomore at Pioneer High School.

We’ve all heard the stories. From local news of Chinese Americans being physically assaulted to our own president’s Twitter posts using phrases such as the “Chinese virus,” there have been too many unsettling events indicating a new wave of hatred and violence toward Asian Americans in our socially distanced world.

Just last week, an Asian American family friend of mine experienced a disturbing bout of racism. While reporting to his job as a doctor at a local hospital in Harlem, New York, he was beaten badly across the face when attempting to board the subway. Malicious insults were hurled at him, including “Keep your Asian disease out of our country” and “Go back to China.” To me, perhaps the most unsettling part of this incident came when he brought his case to the police department in the hopes of declaring a hate crime, yet police officials declined to do so. If such a blatant occurrence of violent bigotry cannot be reported as such, how will the growing onslaught of racist incidents end?

His encounter is not a unique one. Ever since news of the Coronavirus broke in January, Asian Americans have experienced racist incidents in places ranging from school campuses to the workplace to public transportation to social media. Since the Stop-AAPI-Hate website, a project of the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, launched on March 19 to track anti-Asian harassment, it has received more than 1,100 reports from people in more than 30 states detailing verbal taunts, denial of services, discrimination on the job, and physical assaults. Women, they reported, are harassed at twice the rate of men, and 6 percent of the incidents involve children and youth. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Several people have reported others coughing at them, including this frightening incident: ‘A white man on open sidewalk approached and stepped directly in front of me and coughed in extremely exaggerated manner in my face — loudly, mouth wide open, about 2 feet from my face, (and) said ‘take my virus.’” As a Chinese-American teenager, I am stunned that such things can happen in my country in 2020. 

It isn’t limited to just public spaces, as online forums have brought about problem of discrimination as well. A report from L1ght, a company that specializes in measuring online harassment, found there has been a 900 percent growth in hate speech towards China and Chinese people on Twitter. The report notes that “there’s palpable tension related to the disease, and as people spend more time online reading about it, an increasing number of folks are using foul language to generally accuse people of Asian descent of causing the COVID-19 pandemic,” and further added that they had chronicled “a worrying rise in online toxicity and cyberbullying among children, precisely when they are most reliant on digital platforms.”

I’ve personally seen numerous Twitter users using discriminatory hashtags such as #Chinaliedpeopledied, #Chinavirus, and #Kungflu to tweet about the disease, and it hurts. While it has been widely reported that China’s official number of Coronavirus cases and deaths is far-fetched, possibly even 40 times smaller than the actual figures, the Chinese government’s slow uptake and dishonest measures are not a valid excuse for inflicting harm upon innocent Chinese and Asian-American individuals. These hashtags, obviously targeted at the Chinese community at large in order to instill some kind of twisted belief in everybody’s mind that Chinese people are the one and only thing to blame, have truly disheartened me as to the capability we have to problem-solve. True, the Coronavirus may have originated in Wuhan, China, and China is where Chinese people live. But so what? The virus has already become a living, breathing reality, so how must we set about to solve this problem? By taking our anger out on innocent Chinese people? What has that achieved for us? There is a big difference between a government’s actions and its individual people. As hard as it may be for some to realize, hurting the local Chinese community is not going to cure the Coronavirus. What some people don’t seem to figure out is that Chinese people are suffering right alongside the rest of us. They are at as much risk of the virus as anyone else. They need our compassion, and our medical expertise, just as any other victims of this illness do. 

For those hoping to put a stop to this endless cycle of bigotry, keep looking. Even high-ranking government officials have not been completely out of this cruel game. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, upon testing positive for COVID-19, had allies point a finger at the Chinese as the direct cause of this virus. And the Chinese government has, in turn, pointed fingers to other countries in the midst of this calamity , blaming the virus on a U.S. Army delegation to Wuhan last fall. It is a ridiculous game of finger pointing that helps no one, and hurts innocent people.

Even our own President Donald Trump has adopted the practice of calling the ailment the “Chinese virus.”  Trump has since defended his language, explaining that it’s simply a way of reminding people from where the virus emanated. He has also denied the term is racist or that the term maligns people of Asian heritage. “It did come from China,” Trump said at a White House briefing in March. “It is a very accurate term.” Yet after it was reported in the media that his words were hurting innocent Chinese Americans, two days later the president said, “We have to protect our Asian Americans,” echoing a tweet from earlier in the week when he said the coronavirus was “NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.” Yet the White House has not outlined any measures it is taking to protect the Asian-American community that President Trump likely helped to target for these vicious assaults.

According to history teachers throughout my life, the purpose of learning history is so the past does not repeat itself. It is so sad to me to see that this has already happened. The targeting of Asian Americans reminds many of the similar targeting of Muslims after the 9/11 attack. Pew Research found that hate crimes against Muslim Americans rose significantly in 2001 and remained elevated years later. President Trump may have tried to walk back his targeting of the Chinese community, but as the Los Angeles Times reported, “The damage is done.”

All of this, especially actions by those of my own country’s president, have been a slap in the face for me as to how ill-prepared our world is to handle a pandemic of this scope. At a time when we must stick together the most in order to take control of this viral illness that has been killing people day by day, we are instead breaking apart. It’s not the right time to play the blame game. Rather, it’s time to collaborate and find solutions. Bigotry is not a solution. To anything.