Hate and Coronavirus Spread Together

My Covid Story:

In February of 2020, the first signs of coronavirus sounded an alarm to epidemiologists in the United States (U.S.) as they watched China go into full lockdown. By March 2020, the pandemic caused by COVID-19 began to proliferate throughout the U.S. Sadly, along with the spread of the virus came racism directed at Asian Americans. Sinophobia, the dislike or fear towards Chinese people and Chinese culture, heightened as rates of coronavirus began to rise.

Life under quarantine is hard for everyone; but the widespread escalation of Anti-Asian harassment and assault have caused undue fear and anxiety for this community. Reports reveal that incidents occur throughout the country and are not confined to specific locations. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other organizations have been tracking the frequency and details of related occurrences from San Luis Obispo, California to Queens, New York with more than 1,500 reported cases since the start of the pandemic. Keep in mind that these represent only the incidents that are documented, with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of reports not recorded. 

Aileen, an Asian American who lives in Manhattan, experienced racism related to COVID-19 firsthand. One early afternoon, before New York City went into full lockdown, Aileen was hopping onto the subway, heading for an appointment. She recalls that the train was not very crowded; as she got on, a white woman shoved her out of the way, gave her a dirty look and covered her face to signal fear of infection. Aileen, who has been healthy throughout the entire pandemic, was shocked. How could someone treat her like less of a person because of her race? Unfortunately, Aileen’s story is not uncommon. Asian business owners have reported graffiti and hate speech along with vandalism. Slurs such as “Go back to China, you brought the virus here” or “Stop eating bats” have been hurled at countless Asian-Americans. 

A Chinese employee of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), who helps provide services to low income families with eligibility for the federally funded nutrition support program, recalls her similar pandemic story. In March, this person, who prefers to not be identified, fell ill and thought it was related to allergies. She was sick enough, however, to take time off from work; her children — two in high school and the one in college — took care of her for a week, as she recovered from her symptoms of dry cough, loss of taste and smell (very specific for COVID-19), and low-grade fever. She was worried about her job, but received paid time off and felt grateful since many others have not been as lucky. More than a month after she had properly quarantined and fully recovered,  she was in the grocery store buying flour for her daughter who wanted to bake.

I never thought I would be on the receiving end of racism

she said. But while she was waiting to purchase the flour, she heard a woman behind her say “You brought the coronavirus to New York, you are so disgusting for eating bats!” Stunned and deeply insulted, she did not reply nor did she report the incident. The remarks were painful; she froze in disbelief, wondering how people could be so cruel and uninformed.

Damage from, Causes of, and Response to Sinophobia

During a time where mental health is challenged due to isolation, losing those we love, and facing financial and physical hardships, anti-Asian violence and harassment is emotionally draining and hurtful with serious psychological and physical consequences. Attacks involve verbal abuse, offensive graffiti, spitting, coughing or attacking. There is no evidence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders having higher infection rates from COVID-19 than other ethnic groups; in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the second lowest infection rate of all ethnicities in America.

Factors supporting and spreading racist rhetoric include certain news channels and government officials. These constitute large platforms that deliberately scapegoat Asian Americans by using racist terms like “the Chinese Virus” or “Wuhan Flu.” Speaking with those who have been directly affected by discrimination, they report how disheartening and distressing it is when one hears prominent spokespeople, especially POTUS or surrogates from the administration, use racist terms  which, at the very least, excuse racism towards Asian Americans and, at worst, encourage it. 

In response to anti-Asian violence and harassment, the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus has been created.

This represents a movement among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to share their stories and allow their voices to be heard.

Taking active steps against hate and discrimination towards Asian Americans requires vigilance about what businesses you support and holding accountable those who incite racism and use “irresponsible rhetoric.” Facebook has recently come under fire for both disregarding voter suppression and not applying their moderation policies to hate speech and racism on their website. A coalition of anti-hate organizations have collaborated to create an initiative called #StopHateForProfit designed to implore Facebook to change their policies. Four hundred large and small companies, as of this writing, are collectively boycotting advertisement on the social media platform. 

Along with not supporting companies and businesses that encourage, support, or allow racism, speaking out against racism must become common practice. Asian Americans Advancing Justice created a bystander intervention training that can educate people on what to do while witnessing racism. 

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has profoundly impacted everyone’s life. It is imperative to remember that we are all human and should treat one another with respect and equity, no matter your race, ethnicity, age, gender or economic position.

Reported & Written by Katarina Ho; Edited by Dr. Jacki Hart