All my life, I have been fortunate enough to never feel the need to question or fear how my identity is perceived by others. As a proud daughter of Asian immigrants, I have always worn my Japanese heritage on my sleeve, happy to share and educate others about my experiences – even if it means fending off the occasional ignorant or offensive remark.
However, recently these ‘occasional’ remarks have increased ten-fold and evolved from ignorant to outright hateful. Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which originated in Wuhan, China, Asians around the globe have experienced an influx of racist attacks, ranging from verbal assaults to physical attacks and even death threats. With crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, comes fear. Following fear often comes blame, and it seems that people are quick to point their fingers at their Asian neighbors, classmates and community members. Even our own administration is choosing to partake in this harmful rhetoric. In a press statement on March 18, 2020, President Trump defended his use of the term “Chinese virus” to refer to the novel coronavirus, despite overwhelming public outcry from Asian Americans.
The stigma surrounding COVID-19 is almost as invasive as the disease itself. As a result, Asians and Asian Americans must not only cope with the stress of possibly contracting the virus, but we now have to grapple with the fear and anxiety of being verbally assaulted for going outside for a breath of fresh air. Luckily for me, I have only had to experience the anxiety. However, members of my immediate community have not been so fortunate. My friends of Asian descent shared with me instances such as being yelled at on the subway, coworkers making racist comments and getting water thrown at them. And the list goes on.
It’s important to remember, though, that behaviors like these are not new; racist attitudes towards Asians have existed long before this pandemic, so it should be no surprise that in the face of crisis, people feel comfortable to express them. Moreover, these racist attitudes towards Asian Americans reveal the blatant hypocrisy of the oh-so popular model minority myth, which claims that Asians are successful and the “ideal immigrant” because of our culture of hard work and abiding by the rules. But the moment the country is threatened, it is quick to rescind its praise and cast us as the foreigners who started this epidemic.
The coronavirus epidemic has shone yet another light on the racism, xenophobia and hypocrisy ingrained in our country. That is why it is critical that we step up to help fight the pervasive stigma and the harmful actions it incites. Resources like this one from the Public Health Institute provide useful actions organizations can take to address racism and discrimination in their communities. Additionally, our national partners at Protecting Immigrant Families shared this set of talking points on how to discuss coronavirus in relation to immigration.
As health care advocates, we must play our part to deconstruct stigmas and fight the racism that exists in our communities. While the coming months may be uncertain, I know for a fact that even after this crisis passes, our work will not be over. Global pandemic or not, we will always place health equity and justice at the forefront of our work.