[Editor’s Note: The following was issued by JACL Executive Director David Inoue and JACL VP of Public Affairs Sarah Baker.]
As terms like “Chinese Virus”, “Wuhan Virus”, and “Kung Flu” are increasingly used by the president and other leaders in our country, so do we see the increase of racially based hate crimes and xenophobia against people of Asian descent. While President Trump has defended his usage of these types of terms, as “it’s not racist at all,” the impacts on our communities tell a different story.
Since as early as January, Asian-owned businesses have been seeing drastic decreases in sales, to the point that some have had to permanently close. New York City has seen a significant rise in violence against Asians, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assault, including a man chasing an Asian woman through the subway station before beating her. In San Francisco a woman was spit on and screamed at by a man on the street, forcing her to flee to a nearby business to escape further attack. These types of incidents are only going to increase as rhetoric that points the finger at the Chinese, and more broadly Asians, continues to escalate.
Asians, especially East Asians, are being labeled as dirty, uncivilized, and animalistic based on cultural generalizations. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) blamed the Chinese for causing COVID-19 because of the stereotype of a diet of animals exotic to American palates. This type of fear-based inductive reasoning harks back to moments in our history like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, when people of Asian descent were targeted by our government through racist policies.
People of Asian descent are no more likely to be carriers of COVID-19 than anyone else: viruses do not see race. The negative and in some cases violent reactions Asians have been experiencing serve as a reminder that we are seen as the perpetual foreigner. It doesn’t matter how many generations our families have been here or if we have just recently immigrated, we are continually labeled as “other.” Had COVID-19 originated in a predominantly white country, the story would have looked a lot different.
This harmful narrative that is being divisively used by our government leaders is creating wide-spread hatred and fear against Asians that will have long lasting impacts on our community. As businesses close and racist attacks continue, we call on our leaders to use language that does not cast blame on Asian people. COVID-19 is a global pandemic that impacts all of us equally. It should be called by its scientific name, not a colloquialism that is harming the Asian people.