Aria Young (she/her) is an American-Chinese gender & racial equality activist, co-founder of @asianslead, teen advisor at @girlupcampaign. you can find her on instagram at @aria.yq.
By Aria Young
2020 is a year when words hold power. While the deafening silence of the media destroyed lives in China, a dark cloud of noise and numbers on the other side of the world hovered over the sky. “They eat bats and snakes,” “Chinese virus,” “WHO and China are responsible…” The rhetoric sharpens itself into a blade and pierces through the Asian/Asian-American community. As a Chinese girl living in the United States, I have never felt angrier.
The news about a deadly virus originated in China came right on time for white nationalists. Near the end of Trump’s first (and hopefully only) term, after four years of effort put into the American exceptionalism conceit, the U.S. – China trade war, and the tightening of immigration policies, an eruption of national anti-Asian sentiment seems to be the tsunami after the earthquakes. The number of hate crimes against Asian Americans is surging across the country – vandalism, racist graffiti, physical and verbal attacks… the list goes on. Not only are Asian Americans fighting to avoid the virus itself just like everyone else, but they are also facing safety threats in everyday tasks like grocery shopping, traveling alone to public spaces, or even letting their children play outside. Representative Ted Lieu from California said in the news, “I think about if I’m going to the grocery store, I wonder if I should carry this [pepper spray] on me. And no one should be thinking about that.”
Such national bigotry towards a particular group is nothing strange to this country. American Muslims experienced the same terror after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But what’s different this time is the rhetoric of our political leaders. Unlike President George W. Bush who urged tolerance of American Muslims, President Trump and his Republican allies openly use inciting language such as the “Chinese virus” to steer public blame towards China and Chinese Americans. Now, although it is fair to say that the first case of coronavirus was indeed reported in Wuhan, China and that the Chinese Communist Party did deliberately silence warnings from doctors in the pandemic’s early stage, using the term “Chinese virus” indicates something far more than “saying its origin,” like how President Trump and his supporters justify it.
Names are powerful symbols. The name of a disease can be associated with disgust, fear, and resentment. When the name specifically points out a particular group of people, it can easily be used to demonize them and fuel hate and discrimination. When government officials refer to the virus as “Chinese,” they are constantly reminding the American public to blame their loss and inconveniences not on the inability of our own political leaders, but on Chinese people, who, as Fox News host Jesse Watters says, “eat raw bats and snakes.” Meanwhile, from President Trump’s denial of test kit shortage to Georgia’s decision to reopen the state, the U.S. government’s downplay of the outbreak’s severity has led to the highest coronavirus death toll in the world. It is not irrational to read into President Trump’s consistent use of the “Chinese virus” rhetoric as an effort to scapegoat China while the “American” methods have been proven insufficient in protecting the American people.
I recall this moment in tenth grade during “International Week” at my high school. I was selling Asian snacks in the cafeteria when a boy came to me and said, “do you have dog meat?” This month, April 2020, I felt the same anger and speechlessness when I was told by a stranger on social media, after being called an “Asian chick,” that he “especially” does not want to see me “with this corona sh*t going around.” I can only imagine the pain of my fellow Asian Americans who have been spit on or yelled at in the streets, whose business properties have been broken or vandalized, and who are impacted by racism and xenophobia in ways that the media does not reveal.
The Asian American community has been a neglected minority for too long. Now is the time for us to fight back and call out racism wherever and whenever we see it. The initiative I co-founded, Asians Lead, is amplifying the voice of Asians/Asian-Americans during this difficult time. If you have stories about your COVID-19 experience, or simply want to show solidarity with the Asian/Asian-American community, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a feature on our Instagram page @asianslead.
Racism is a virus; let’s not let it spread.
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- Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times. Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety.