Xenophobia and the Coronavirus


Jess Hawsor / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

This is an anti-xenophobia poster in New York City, which has thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Although this poster advocates against it, xenophobia against people of Asian descent has increased due to the coronavirus.

Caitlynn Kelley, Journalist

The Chinese virus, the Chinese coronavirus, and the Wuhan virus have all been names that politicians have called the coronavirus. The several different names that stressed the virus’s origin in Wuhan, China have been condemned by scientists because associating a virus with a certain ethnic group can cause xenophobia. During this uncertain time in the United States, this has manifested in an increasing number of attacks against those of Asian descent.

Former Assemblywoman Young Kim stated that the coronavirus isn’t spread by a certain race, ethnic groups, etc. and that it isn’t a time to be divisive. President Trump has recently stopped using the term “Chinese virus” a day after he tweeted that Asian Americans were not to blame for the spread of the coronavirus. He also stated that the “Chinese virus” isn’t racist, since the virus does originate from China. 

Caitlynn Kelley
Many politicians have been discouraged from using names that refer to the coronavirus’s Chinese origin. Senior Eric Vo states, “President Trump calling the coronavirus the ‘Chinese virus’ just caused even further hate crimes against Asians, and it’s really not fair to them. One of the reasons why the coronavirus was coined ‘COVID-19’ was to avoid the generalization and stigma of putting the blame of a virus on a single race.”

There has been an increase of assaults and other types of harassment against Asian Americans. There have been various political figures that have denounced the xenophobic attacks. Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti showed his condemnation of the attacks against Asian-Americans on Twitter. Attorney General of New York Letitia James established a hate crime hotline for those to report coronavirus-related hate crimes. There was a poster with a fake World Health Organization logo on it in Los Angeles, which stated to avoid Asian owned businesses. An Asian middle school boy was beaten up by classmates, who said that he was infected with the coronavirus. In Philadelphia, several young people struck an Asian man’s head until he fell to the ground. In an Atlantic article titled, “Conservatives Try to Brand the coronavirus,” it drew examples of Asian American discrimination to parallel the coronavirus xenophobia in the United States. 

When there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Honolulu’s Chinatown, the officials believed that the bubonic plague was caused by the dirt that the Chinese were packed into; to stop and control the spread of the virus, authorities decided to start a controlled fire between the rest of Honolulu and Chinatown. The wind spread the fire to Chinatown, and many of Chinatown’s citizens lost their homes. 

Texas Senator Cornyn (R-TX) stated that the Chinese culture is to blame for the coronavirus and other viruses (MERS, SARS, etc). He said that in Chinese culture, people eat bats, snakes, and dogs and that is how China has been a source for these viruses. The Asian community is striving to combat both the coronavirus and bigotry that they are facing. 

Senior Angel Kuo has faced discrimination when he has gone shopping. He describes, “Since the lockdown has started, I went grocery shopping twice and as a precaution, I wore a mask. The first time, I noticed a lady walk into the store and once she saw me with the mask she covered her face with her jacket and kept glancing at me. The second time a lady had looked at me and had said something that I didn’t hear, but she started making noises and laughing.”

He states that President Trump calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” “was a reckless, unnecessary move.” “It has only strengthened stereotypes that had already been in place and caused physical harm to many Asians who have experienced worse than I have in the groceries.”

Kuo talks about how unnecessary it is to blame a culture for a virus. “We cannot blame the spread of the virus on culture because the consumption of ‘exotic’ animals in China and many other countries has been a tradition for hundreds if not thousands of years without diseases as big as this one. Wet markets like the ones in Wuhan are a standard in many areas and it is where people can easily buy food since not everyone has the facilities to get disinfected, packaged food as we do in the US.”

Regarding why minorities are targets when an outbreak of a virus happens, Kuo states, “Immigrants and minorities are blamed because they lack the resources for testing, medication, or treatments. Therefore, virus and disease spreads much more throughout these populations, but not for their own fault. The problem originates with a country’s already broken healthcare systems, that… might work in normal circumstances, [but] shatter under pressure. The combination of a dysfunctional system with a lack of care for those that cannot afford healthcare makes disease seem as if it comes from those minority populations. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.”

He believes discrimination resurfaces during a time of a crisis, such as a virus, to make others a scapegoat; he also believes that the accomplishments that China has made are being overlooked. “Unfortunately, everyone places the blame on China for not releasing information sooner, but no one has taken notice of the feats they accomplished. They built a hospital with 1000 beds in 10 days! And another with 1600 beds in 12 days! They had tens of thousands of volunteers flown in from every single province in Hubei in order to treat patients. The entire city was quarantined and volunteers went knocking from door to door in a city of 11 million to take temperatures of every single person and anyone with the slightest symptoms were quarantined in hospitals. But despite all of the accomplishments and having stopped the spread, all people do is focus on the fact that it originated in China, while the situations are much worse in Europe and the US…”

Kuo states how the coronavirus has negatively impacted politicians and how it has driven many dysfunctional systems into public awareness. “The coronavirus has opened the eyes of the general public to several broken systems like healthcare, wealth distribution, and help for the unemployed. Already we are seeing the anger of the population against several far-right for several reasons including senators selling stocks after finding out information that had not been released and many political figures downplaying the severity of the situation which created a false belief for many that we should be fine…“

He talks about how his family is worried to leave their house due to the fear of being attacked and how he loves the solidarity between the Asian community during this time. “Concerning the High Desert, which is majorly conservative, my mom has already voiced her concern with my dad and me about going out as we fear discrimination or possibly even attacks. I feel that throughout my life I have constantly faced racism in the form of ‘jokes’ and sadly it has become normalized, and the current situation has only worsened it for Asians in general. The west coast, being the hotspot for Asians in the US, has many cities that have a majority of Asians and it brings me comfort that those communities are able to support each other during this time. However, there has been an increase of attacks towards Asians in these hotspot cities. It feels like all the work we’ve done to assimilate into US culture has been destroyed with the return of the attacks and increased discrimination. But, I know Asians have been toughened throughout history of racism and we will pull through this pandemic as we always have, with support or not.”

Seventh grader Courtney Chen states that her and her family don’t live in an area where they’re treated differently. “I, luckily, live in a community where discrimination is not common, and have not been a victim of discrimination. As for the rest of my family, they too live in communities where people treat them just like those of the same race as them. I believe that both the President and Senator Cornyn have furthered this discrimination, but I nor anybody I know have been the target of discrimination.”

Regarding increased xenophobia during adverse times, Chen states, “I believe that the reason that immigrants and minorities become targeted is because the people are scared and they want to have someone to blame for the issue.” 

She reiterated her belief that it is born from fear. “The people become scared and search for someone to blame. Another reason why discrimination occurs during these situations is because the people might fear that someone of a different race might be carrying such an illness since they come from the place where the virus comes from.”

Chen believes that the coronavirus will not impact politicians that much, however, they might become more hostile to Asian political leaders. 

She explains how the coronavirus might further discrimination towards people of Asian descent. “Although I haven’t been a victim of discrimination, I think that some of those who are not Asian will try to stay away from Asians. However, some of the more brash will treat Asians with hate. Such examples of hate would be offensive words, gestures, or even violence.”

Senior Eric Vo describes how his mother has faced discrimination due to the coronavirus as well as how stereotypes and one world view can contribute to the issue. “Fortunately, I haven’t been targeted, but when the coronavirus outbreak first started up, my mom was forced to take two weeks off of work because her boss assumed things about her health… You can say that Asian people in general have some weird exotic cuisine food choices, but if you look at our American foods from a foreign perspective, it’s just as weird to them that we eat a lot of processed foods, as opposed to Asian foods where they eat a lot of fresh foods. It’s unfair to say that Chinese people eat bats and other exotic animals because most of the time, these are simply stereotypes that people were taught at a younger age and it continues to be old through generations.”

Vo details why he thinks immigrants and minorities are usually blamed during crises. “As sad as it is to say, people like to naturally blame others for unfair reasons. When something goes wrong, many don’t like to say, ‘Hey, that’s my fault,’ but rather, ‘Yeah, it was so and so’ to avoid taking the blame. However, this scenario isn’t the case with the coronavirus. People assume things about the Chinese government all the time, so they connect these two issues and decide that it is their fault for the virus. People like to take all the bad aspects out of culture or society and use those things to place blame.

People assume things about the Chinese government all the time, so they connect these two issues and decide that it is their fault for the virus. People like to take all the bad aspects out of culture or society and use those things to place blame.”

— Eric Vo

He describes how people can be influenced by prominent people and entities (politicians, celebrities, colleges, universities, etc). He goes further into detail how they can go out of context and how this advances discrimination. “Once people take things out out of context and eminent people (like celebrities, politicians, etc) start to say one thing, their fans or supporters are instantly hooked into this narrative that is portrayed. Because one person says something bad about Asians during this time, people think it’s okay to do so, too. Take UC Berkeley for example: they posted an infographic that said ‘feelings of xenophobia are natural during a time period like this.’ People who don’t know any better eat that up and continue to say hateful words or do hateful acts against Asians because a credible source (in this case UC Berkeley) said so.

Vo gives his opinion on how politicians could use the xenophobia surrounding the coronavirus to their own advantage. “Politicians will say anything they can to continue influencing their supporters. If they know their supporters are being hateful and don’t like the idea of ‘healthy Asians,’ politicians will continue this narrative because they want to keep their support up. It’s the same with politicians who are trying to stop these xenophobic acts. Some do it in their best interest, and others do it to benefit the population.”

He elaborates on how the increased discrimination from the coronavirus is negatively impacting himself, his family, and future generations of Asian Americans. “The coronavirus has made Asians scared to leave their house – not because they’re scared of getting the virus, but because they’re scared of how everyone else views them. There have been numerous articles in which Asian people are targeted because people are scared of them and assuming things about their race or health. In a time where we should be looking out for each other, people are finding reasons to hurt Asians because they think we started it. For me, I get scared for my parents when they go grocery shopping now because they are cases where Asian people are beat up in the parking lot because ‘they cut in line’ or ‘they touched another person and now they’re going to have the virus.’ Sadly, there are people who are finding any reason to belittle the Asian population. Life is hard enough already with everything going on and now people are making it so much harder. It’s times like these where a lot of Asian people are scared to be who they are and in turn, that affected generations to come.”

The coronavirus has caused a lot of havoc in the United States and throughout the world. COVID-19 not only has made people worry that they’ll get sick, but for some they worry about the abuse that they may face due to their race. The evilness of human nature has come out during a time when people should be in solidarity with each other to stop the spread of the virus. No one should be afraid of going out shopping or doing other normal activities just because of their racial background. The horrible treatment that the Asian community is getting during these times is unjust and uncalled for. As Vo stated regarding Berkeley’s infographic, “It’s not right simply because people need to learn to make their own opinions. Stop following this ideology that appears to be right simply because it’s portrayed to be so. Research and learn why these acts are so bad and speak up about them!”