The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the best in us, with plenty of stories making headlines and filling the airwaves about people helping each other, making donations and otherwise realizing we’re all in this together.
The flip side, unfortunately, is that the coronavirus has also exposed the depravity in many of us, whether it’s scam artists peddling snake oil, supposed “leaders” urging their acolytes to ignore stay-at-home orders, or gougers hiking the price of essential items. It also has stirred a rash of hate crimes against Asian-Americans, whose only offense, it seems, is that their ancestry can be traced back to the continent where the coronavirus began its global rampage.
An FBI report has forecast an increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans because of the coronavirus. U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat, says reports of hate crimes against Asian-Americans are averaging about 100 per day. Some of what has already occurred is chilling: Three members of a Chinese-American family, including a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, were stabbed at a Sam’s Club store in Texas by a fellow shopper who believed they were carrying the coronavirus; in San Diego, one Asian-American woman reported being threatened by someone who urged her to “go back to China” or be shot; another Asian-American woman was chased and assaulted in New York, apparently because of who she was and the fact that she was wearing a mask.
With his unerring ability to pass blame and inflame tensions, President Trump and his White House have not helped matters. They have called the coronavirus a “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus,” after the region from which it sprang. One White House official has reportedly taken to calling it “kung flu.” Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, explained that “it’s a total setup and it’s a racial setup. It’s like (Trump’s) giving a thumbs-up to people who listen to him, people who are using it to commit acts of violence against Asian-Americans. I think it’s really scary.”
An Asian-American woman and West Virginia resident who asked to go by the name “Esther” told the online magazine Vox, “I just feel really sad for humanity. Because all of this is really indicative that no matter how American you are, no matter how much you contribute ... as long as there is an overt reason to hate you, to otherize you and make you a foreigner, people will (latch) onto that. And that has always been something that I’ve been aware of in the back of my head.”
Prejudice against people of Asian descent is not something new in America. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese workers from coming to the country. Thirty-five years later, the Immigration Act of 1917 prohibited immigrants from “Asiatic” zones. Then, in a fit of fear and hysteria, Japanese-Americans were shipped to internment camps during World War II. Asian-Americans – and, really, Americans of any background – should be worried that the past is repeating itself in the current crisis.
Put simply, we are better than this.