‘Right Now, Who I Actually Am Doesn’t Matter’: How COVID-19 Is Causing a Spike in Anti-Asian Racism
We've come to last in our six-week series of Anti-Racism Daily newsletters spotlighting the COVID-19 crisis published on Well+Good. Today, we are looking at the spike in anti-Asian racism that's growing at the pace of the virus. Thank you to Katie for sharing her story here with us today, and sending love to everyone in this community that's dealing with this violence.
1. Ensure your company has implemented anti-discrimination policies that protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders using this PDF.
2. In your next few interactions with people who are different from you, bring awareness and acknowledge the prejudice or disregard you might initially have about this person based on their surface categorical group (their race, sexual orientation, or gender)... then move beyond that. What else do you notice about this person’s character?
3. Don't refer to COVID-19 using the racist terminology mentioned in this newsletter.
The onset of COVID-19 in early March set off a dramatic spike in anti-Asian racism. The Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, organized by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, has tracked over 1,900 self-reported acts of anti-Asian incidents from March 13 to June, and hundreds more from California and Texas since (A3PCON). Fifty-eight percent of Asian Americans feel it’s more common to experience racism now than it was before COVID-19, and 31 percent have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity (Pew Research). A recent Pew Study reports that since COVID-19, about 40 percent of U.S. adults believe “it has become more common for people to express racist views toward Asians since the pandemic began” (Pew Research).
Our president has played a role in this, applying his divisive approach to conversations around COVID-19, choosing to refer to it as the “Chinese virus,” or “kung flu,” consistently. Press noted he used “Chinese virus” over 20 times between March 16 and March 30 (NBC News). I found a source where he agreed to stop using the term in late March to “protect our Asian American community in the United States,” but keeps using it, most recently in late July when he finally encouraged citizens to wear a mask (Bloomberg, CNN). These terms have also been perpetuated by the media and the general population.
“Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity or the colour of your skin or how much money you have in the bank.” —Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization, for Newsweek
I know we’re probably all tired of talking about Trump. I sure am. But, as we’ve discussed in previous newsletters, language matters. And there’s a long history of North America and its leaders using false narratives to associate Asian Americans with diseases to "justify" racial discrimination and violence. In the late 19th century, many Chinese and Japanese people immigrated to the U.S. and Canada for the gold rush, along with immigrants from the UK and Europe. Their labor was indispensable for the growth of infrastructure alongside the West Coast, but they were also paid terribly compared to their white American counterparts (The Conversation).
As Chinese communities began to grow, white communities turned against them, fearing they would take their jobs and disrupt their quality of life. They ostracized them by blaming Chinese people for diseases—like syphilis, leprosy, and smallpox—growing in the region. This was entirely untrue; poverty, not race, is more accurately correlated with the spread of diseases. Despite that, Canada created a Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration and concluded that "Chinese quarters are the filthiest and most disgusting places in Victoria, overcrowded hotbeds of disease and vice, disseminating fever and polluting the air all around,” even though they knew themselves it wasn’t accurate (The Conversation). This spurred violence and hateful rhetoric, but political changes, too: the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and Canada followed with its own Chinese Immigration Act in 1885. These were the first law for both countries that excluded an entire ethnic group (AAPF).
We chatted with Katie Dean, an educator currently working in the tech space, for her perspective of the anti-Asian racism and our country’s history of violence against Asian Americans.
Anti-Racism Daily: How has COVID-19 impacted you?
Katie Dean: I was the first person I know to start self-isolating in early March. I was reading international publications, and I saw what was happening in other parts of the world. Out of respect for the suffering and loss Italy, Iran, and China endured, I decided the most responsible thing I could do was stay inside. In my life, I’ve chosen meaningful work over monetary success. I give up my seat on the bus for elderly people. I’m also funny, sharp-witted, and fanatically clean.
Why am I listing all of this? Because right now, who I actually am, doesn’t matter. When I walk out into the world, I am judged by my face. And currently the face of an Asian person, to some, is synonymous with COVID-19, the virus that has taken loved ones, the virus that’s brought the global economy to a crashing halt, the virus that has exacerbated every conceivable racial and socioeconomic disparity. And this hurts, on a profound level.
The last thing I’m eliciting is pity. This is what all BIPOC people endure. This is the same experience people resembling someone of Middle Eastern descent have endured since 9/11. This is what Black people have endured systemically since 1619. This paragraph is just for illustration.
And how has this racism shown up in your life before COVID-19?
On multiple occasions, while I was in high school, a lifelong white friend would look at me, really seeing ME for the first time, and after years of friendship, in a moment of reckoning say, “I finally see you as white.” At the time, my 14-year-old self felt a sense of pride and acceptance in those moments, a sense of belonging. As I’ve advanced in my understanding of race, and how my race has shaped my experiences, I look back and am horrified by what these statements in fact meant.
When my white friends said, “I finally see you as white,” what they meant is “I finally see you as human,” and what that translates to is that “white and only white people are able to be fully human, fully themselves, fully individual.” This construct also implies that all non-white people are all somehow “less than” until it’s decided by white people that they are acceptable. Well, BIPOC and other marginalized groups have no interest in our humanity being measured against the white measuring stick.
Where do you believe we need to go from here?
Dehumanizing others, throughout the entire course of human history, is what’s allowed the worst atrocities to take place. The psychology of seeing whole groups of people as less than human, is what allows and justifies egregious mistreatment, apathy towards suffering, and irreverence to the genocide of these other groups. This is currently happening on all fronts, against all BIPOC as well as the LGBTQ+ communities.
Breaking down systemic racism will be the greatest battle we face, spanning many lifetimes. But addressing who we assign and don’t assign individuality to, the basic respect of recognizing the unique human in others, is critical work we can all start immediately to dismantle racist behaviors within ourselves.
- The onset of COVID-19 in early March set off a dramatic spike in anti-Asian racism.
- The U.S. and Canada have a history of accusing Asian Americans of disease as one of many ways to discriminate and incite violence against them.
- Our country's practice of "othering" has caused significant harm to Asian Americans, which is exacerbated by the current racial discrimination during COVID-19.
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