Since COVID-19 began sweeping the globe, xenophobia and violence against East Asians and people of East Asian descent has skyrocketed both in the United States and abroad. The behavior has ranged from economic xenophobia to all-out physical attacks on East Asian folx.
East Asian businesses were hit with the first wave of COVID-19-related xenophobia, and it quickly progressed to greater forms of violence. The timing of these attacks have aligned with media coverage that framed COVID-19 as a Chinese-exclusive disease, and with the related dismissals of its severity by the Trump administration. The Trump administration deeming the virus a “Chinese Virus”—rather than Coronavirus or COVID-19—certainly did not help.
In Chicago’s Chinatown alone, there was a dramatic drop in commerce and foot traffic as far back as mid-February, long before any stay-at-home orders were in place. Restaurants and markets in Chinatown saw a 50% decline that month, when there were only 3 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois. One of the most alarming hate crimes happened in Texas in mid-March and targeted an Asian-American family, who’s 2 and 6-year old children were stabbed “because [the suspect] thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.”
In the Asian-American community, these incidents have been met with a variety of responses.
Former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post and called readers to action: "We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue […] We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”
Yang’s comments were met with criticism from many in the Asian-American community because, at a time when East Asians around the world are being physically attacked in the streets, the victims should not be made responsible for figuring out how to navigate racism, but on everyone else to ally with them against it.
In response to this uptick in violence, Planned Parenthood signed onto a letter to U.S. House congressional leadership denouncing the racist attacks and xenophobic behaviors and encouraging the use of neutral, scientific language when discussing the issue. We have to measure the impact of our words, and in a time of heightened stress and trauma, the language we choose to use is more important than ever.
This is the deadliest pandemic we have seen in over 100 years. The unknown can be terrifying and overwhelming to many of us, but rather than abandon ethics, morals, and our commitment to racial justice, now is the time to reaffirm them.
When looking for ways to stand with Asian-American communities, you can start by considering these questions:
- How have your organizations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Has that response been equitable? How are staff being supported?
- How is anti-Asian racism and xenophobia being addressed by your friends, neighbors, and larger community?
We keep referring to this pandemic as an “unprecedented time,” however, this nation has been fueled by racism, discrimination, and xenophobia since its inception, which makes this new wave of xenophobia feel quite familiar. We need to take a stand against racism—and that means more than wearing red, white, and blue. At a time when economic insecurity is on the rise and small business owners are struggling to keep their doors open, you can start by supporting Asian-owned businesses in your community.
What are other ways we can support the Asian-American communities and businesses that are being directly impacted by COVID-19-related racism? Please pop over to PPIL’s Facebook page and join in the conversation.