Confronting xenophobia in light of coronavirus

Lauren Cho

As I scroll through news articles to find updates about the coronavirus, I pass countless stories about xenophobic behavior toward Asian-Americans, prompting me to adjust my behavior in public. Even I am self-conscious as I step out of my house on my weekly run to the grocery store to buy supplies for self-quarantine. Judgment feels so natural, and this feeling has become a regular part of my life.

Business in Chinese restaurants and Chinese districts is plummeting because of the virus. The fear of contracting the virus has driven people away from Chinese-American communities, merely because it started in China. This, however, does not mean that the Chinese are the only ones targeted. Many other Asian communities have reported multiple incidents of verbal and physical abuse, as well as discrimination in public areas. Microaggressions have also become increasingly present in these communities because of the stigma around the virus. People on public transportation have judged and avoided being near Asian Americans, and some go as refusing service to them.

Although people ought to practice strict social distancing, the malicious treatment of Asian-Americans is unreasonable, as is holding them accountable for the spread of the virus or assuming that they are more likely to carry the virus than other ethnicities.

The World Health Organization attempts to avoid naming viruses based on animals, places or groups, such as the Spanish Flu, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and monkeypox, so as not to stigmatize certain groups. Instead, it has issued guidelines to brand the disease with a more generic name, such as the COVID-19.

However, people have repeatedly referred to the virus with terms that bear racial connotations. President Donald Trump dubbed the coronavirus “the Chinese virus,” which has ratcheted up the tension between the two countries. The name has prompted more xenophobic behavior against Chinese and other Asian populations by reinforcing the idea that the Chinese are to be blamed for the pandemic. There is also an alleged case of a White House official calling the virus “Kung-Flu.” Such comments work only to limit progress toward eliminating the virus. They throw up walls between communities, discouraging cooperation to find a solution.

In a great time of fear, placing the responsibility on others is not productive. Today, there is a significant decrease in the number of new cases in China while Western countries are experiencing exponential growth of the coronavirus. These new cases are not being contracted from the Chinese; they are growing from the community itself. Americans are infecting Americans. The virus did start in China, but this does not mean that we should waste time blaming its people for the pandemic. Instead, the government should work on bringing the surging number of cases under control and protecting our country.