Trump’s dubbing of the virus as the “Chinese Virus” has only made the situation that much worse.
When the news of the coronavirus first broke, there was a lot of information circulating on the news; some of it was helpful, while a lot of it was xenophobic and ill-intentioned. With COVID-19 spreading across the globe and officially impacting the United States more than even the disease’s country of origin, racist sentiments are at an all-time high. Just within the past week, a restaurant in Yakima, Washington had its windows broken and racist slurs were spray-painted across the front doors. In Seattle, a Filipino man was beaten and harassed on the street.
When New York had its first confirmed case of the coronavirus, several newspapers ran articles with pictures of Asians, even though the infected individual had traveled from Iran, where she was suspected of contracting the virus. A group of U.S. veterans in San Francisco have charged themselves with patrolling the city’s Chinatown in attempts to prevent hate crimes. The FBI is investigating an incident in Texas where a family from Burma was repeatedly stabbed by a man who blamed them for the coronavirus. The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council reported over 700 complaints of assaults and harassment of Asian Americans — all linked to the coronavirus.
I’d like to say I’m surprised by the way Americans are reacting in the midst of this pandemic, but unfortunately I am not. How can anyone be surprised at these hate crimes and racial slurs when our own President has dubbed COVID-19 “The Chinese Virus”? It’s been made clearer than ever before that we cannot look to our leaders and politicians for guidance. There has been a gross level of negligence on behalf of President Trump, starting with his axing of the government’s pandemic response team.
Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, a Korean artist, has begun illustrating the impact of coronavirus related racism on the Asian American community. She also picked up the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus, originating in France, in an attempt to bring more attention to the impacts that this virus is having other than its obvious medical toll. She rightly points out that these sorts of xenophobic statements and sentiments are not new, but rather amplified by the current state of the world. Sjöblom also disclosed that she and her partner sat down with her son in order to warn him of the possibility of being bullied and accosted at school and in public.
A college student from Singapore, Jonathan Mok, reported being kicked and punched on the streets. He later posted images of his sustained injuries with the caption “Racism is not stupidity — racism is hate.” The world is in a state of panic, and that panic is accompanied by deep-seeded fears. However, it is unacceptable to let those fears manifest as hatred and discrimination, despite what our president says or does. This is a time for the people of the United States, and the rest of the world, to take up the mantle and preach love and not hate. This is a time for unity and togetherness. No one group of people is responsible for this virus, but it is up to all of us to prevent further spreading, infection and death.
UNICEF created a list of suggestions for how to combat xenophobia in your community. The list includes celebrating other cultures, reporting attacks and intervening if it is safe to do so and calling out bigotry and hate speech. Helen Zia, in an article for The New York Times called state and local leaders to action, suggesting that they follow in the footsteps of the governors of New York and California, who have taken extra measures to protect all of their citizens. Writers across numerous publications urge individuals to speak out against hateful speech and negative racial associations with the coronavirus and to check in on people in your life who may be suffering because of the spread of misinformation and hatred.