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Words Matter

By April 3, 2020 April 9th, 2020 No Comments

As the coronavirus rages on, so, too, are racial attacks against Asian Americans — now AAPIs are concentrating efforts to raise awareness and root out xenophobic violence.

By P.C. Staff

A 51-year-old Asian woman riding the New York subway in late March was physically attacked by four assailants who all yelled anti-Asian comments related to coronavirus at her; she required stitches at the hospital. An Asian family shopping for groceries in Texas last month was attacked and stabbed by a man who blamed them for being Chinese and spreading the coronavirus. A woman standing at a street corner in San Francisco was spit on by a man who shouted expletives at her for causing the coronavirus. A child in the Los Angeles Unified School District was bullied by classmates and accused of having coronavirus simply because he is Asian.

These are just a sampling of incidents involving acts of racial violence against Asian Americans in the weeks since the coronavirus has raged on in the U.S.

Increasing acts of hatred against Asian Americans has led to the creation of the website “Stop AAPI Hate (http://www.asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org),” which tracks racially motivated attacks on Asians. Created in part by San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Professor Russell Jeung and backed by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action, in its first two weeks in operation, the site has logged more than 1,000 incidents.

Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, said in a statement: “First and foremost, we want community members to know they are not alone; they can speak out and help stop the spread of bigotry. Secondly, the collected data will allow us to assess the extent and magnitude of these incidents and to develop strategic interventions.”

Adding to the continual rise in attacks are comments made last month by President Donald Trump, who, in his daily White House briefings, insisted on calling coronavirus the “Chinese virus.”

Said Jeung in an interview with National Public Radio, “What President Trump did was he insisted on calling it the ‘Chinese virus’ and labeling coronavirus as a racial disease. And by othering Asians — and it’s not just Chinese, anybody who looks Chinese — it gave people license to attack us, to blame us for the disease, to say we’re the source of it. And it’s not the people who are the source of the disease, it’s just, you know, a virus that doesn’t discriminate.”

Facing rising criticism from politicians, civil rights groups, medical professionals including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Asian Americans and the general public, Trump recently issued a Tweet, backpedaling on his earlier remarks.

“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape or form,” Trump tweeted. “They are working with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”

Regardless of Trump’s statement, Jeung told NPR, “I think it’s a little too little, too late. He’s already opened the door to this racism. It was already starting even before he made the ‘China virus’ remarks, and he just sort of exacerbated the situation.”

Asian American lawmakers agree. California Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) issued a statement on March 19, saying, “COVID-19 is a public health issue, not a racial one. Calling it a ‘Chinese virus’ only encourages hate crimes and incidents against Asian Americans at a time when communities should be working together to get through this crisis.”

And California Gov. Gavin Newsom also called for his state to not point blame on Asians in what has become a pandemic that does not discriminate.

In announcing new measures to slow the coronavirus, Newsom spoke about the increase in racial violence.

“I just want folks to know, we’re better than that. We’re watching that,” said Newsom. “We’re going to begin to enforce that more aggressively.”

On March 31, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution that urged city employees and citizens to not use the terms “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus.” It also condemned President Trump’s “use of such terms and the xenophobic attacks on the Asian American community.”

Asian American athletes are helping to spread the word against anti-Asian hate as well.

Los Angeles Rams safety Taylor Rapp, whose mother is Chinese and whose father is white, and UCLA All-American gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, whose father is Japanese and whose mother is German, have joined Athletes for Impact, a worldwide athlete activism organization, and more than 100 other organizations throughout the world to raise awareness in a digital campaign to end xenophobic violence against Asians as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Said Ohashi of the Global Call for Racial Solidarity Under COVID-19 Pandemic: “That’s where it all starts, it’s not [just] Asians all fighting for themselves because we’re not going to get very far. But when you see every type of background coming together, that’s where you start spreading positivity.”

UCLA women’s basketball player Natalie Chou told ESPN recently, “For weeks, I have been scared to go outside by myself. I am always alert and tense because I do not know how people will respond to me. People who look like me have been put in danger and have become targets. We are being attacked during a time where unity and togetherness are vital.”

And Rapp agrees. In a statement, he said, “These higher-ups need to call it the correct name because when you call it the ‘Chinese virus’ and the ‘Wuhan virus,’ they’re just fueling the fire for Asians and especially Chinese people to get harassed and picked on and more of this rage against them. A virus doesn’t have a nationality or race.”

Athletes for Impact has been using videos and social media to bring attention to racist hatred toward Asian Americans and as a means to instead promote solidarity during this trying time.

Social media is indeed spreading the word, reaching all generations as Asian Americans continue to speak out against racial violence.

Choi is hopeful that all people will rally against this rising wave of hatred and see this as not just an Asian American issue but also one that affects every American.