Assault On Asians Won’t Make The Virus Go Away
It was January 23rd, and I was at Orlando, FL, supporting a work event, which happened to be a nurse’s conference. Like many people, I was only beginning to understand COVID-19, which was still referred to as coronavirus at the time. I even remember joking to one of the nurse practitioners that this virus was racist, because it only targeted Chinese people. I groaned that I have a better chance of catching this virus than winning the lottery because I’m Chinese, to the laughter of the nurse practitioner. Oh how I wish it was still a laughing matter.
In less than a month, the US has seen hundreds of thousands of infections, some areas doubling by the day. The economy hurtled towards recession in lightning speed. Hospitals are overwhelmed, morgues over-capacity, medical equipment a scarce commodity, and millions of Americans without a job or insurance.
At the time of writing, we are not even at peak infection yet.
While all those issues mentioned above are dismaying, I firmly believe we will bounce back from this. It may take longer, as we have both a pandemic AND an economic loss together, not to mention the pending natural disasters that comes with seasonal weather changes, but we will make a return. We always do.
What we won’t come back from, is the rhetoric of Asian Americans being the cause and carriers of this virus.
A deadly virus, and a deadly rhetoric.
The above are, unfortunately, just small samples of what has happened since the pandemic started. Mainstream news does not sufficiently cover cases of hate crime and xenophobia that’s been happening, hence the emergence of hotlines, sites, and Facebook groups created to capture these incidents.
“We’ve never received this many news tips about racism against Asians. It’s crazy. My staff is pulling double duty just to keep up.” — Benny Luo, CEO of Asian American news site NextShark
Racism IS the true virus, no matter where you go.
This posting is about Asians on the receiving end of hate. But, it would be irresponsible to disregard the fact that African Americans are also facing xenophobia from China as well.
With scares of a second wave of infections, China has severely limited its borders to foreigners. With that as a crutch, Chinese officials have used that to single out Africans to test, to blame, and to reject. Many Africans have found themselves displaced, humiliated, and homeless.
In the midst of fear and anxiety, people are acting out blame because it is a defense mechanism for powerlessness and discomfort. If, in their minds, that certain groups are to blame, then it’s easier to focus that energy on that outlet for their pent-up emotions. Rationality and civility go out the window. But, is that right?
“Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain”. — Brene Brown
I read about my fellow Asian American families’ plights, and at once my body is filled with both sympathy and anger. That victim of abuse can easily be my dad, or my aunt, or my brother. It boggles my mind that a person can be so callous, so monstrous, to not only say the things they are saying, but act out the things they are saying.
How can someone really justify stabbing or running someone over just because one is Asian? Or coughing in their faces? Or spewing vitriol? Why, and where, is all this hate coming from? Did they have it within them all along? Is it heavy load to carry, that hate?
Trust me, we as Asians are scared too. No matter how plausible it may seem, it simply isn’t true that just because a person is Asian, it means they carry the virus. If viruses magically appeared in a certain person just because of race, we’d all be Aryan now.
In the past 10 years, there has been three notable viruses that ravaged our world:
Swine flu of 2009, which killed an estimated 151,700–575,400.
Each time, the world followed with anxiety and caution. Each time, the world survived with lessons learned, and because no blame or mass violence was involved, those pandemics quietly slipped into our distant memories. We came together, and we conquered together. COVID-19 should be no different.
We are all waiting with abated breath for when this is over. When the virus slows down. When the economy stops bleeding. When we can go back to normal. But the fact is the new normal for Asians will look very different. We have to find a way to feel like we belong, like our hard-won successes matter, like we are not America’s unwanted son or daughter.
I am not naïve to think this would be the last time Asians are on the receiving end of mass hate. The world goes through its cycle, and after this, there will be a next targeted group.
My wish is for us to remember that we all fall into some group deemed “inferior”. In no particular order or exhaustive, we are women, old, dark-skinned, intellectually or physically challenged, any sort of non-cisgender hetero, blue collar, of the “wrong” religion, immigrants, not of perfect health. We can choose to always be privileged, or sometimes be privileged.
Let’s all be privileged together, to assume positive intent, to know we want the same things, love and appreciation, and fight the side effects, not each other.