COVID-19: Revealing the Underlying Racism

Irene Kim, Writer

“Racism against Asians is unfounded and emphasizes an underlying societal problem that currently exists. This event just happened to highlight it,” said Michelle Kim, a junior at BCA.  

The coronavirus is a novel respiratory illness first detected in China in the fall of 2019. As of March 7, 2020, there were 106,200 cases of this virus worldwide, with a death rate of 3.4%. As fear of the virus has spread, here in America, those of Asian heritage have begun to elicit furtive, and sometimes overt, discrimination. Ultimately, whether the racist remarks or actions come from an ignorant child or worse-an ignorant politician, the discriminatory rhetoric and actions fomented against Asian Americans are atrocious and simply unacceptable.

A Congressman from Arkansas, Senator Tom Cotton, brought up the possibility that the virus originated in a laboratory in China, rather than a food market in Wuhan which is the truth. Experts disproved his claims; however, the senator continued to push his hypothesis on news outlets, intent on convincing others of his flawed viewpoint. On the Fox News show, Sunday Morning Futures, Cotton said, “We know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.” 

His comments resulted in an uproar of dissent from many members of the Congress. Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus wrote a letter, requesting the following: “Help us prevent hysteria, ignorant attacks and racist assaults … some in Congress continue to push unfounded theories.” 

Other misleading information has been circulating around social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Videos of Asians eating bats are going viral, with inaccurate speculations and comments dehumanizing all Asians. Old racist tropes have also been reignited with the emergence of derogatory remarks against the Asian race that associate them with disease and filth.  

“Especially in the US, because the Chinese and Asians are a minority it’s much easier for racism to occur,” said Grace Chu, a sophomore at BCA. “If it happened in a European country, white people would not get the same kind of backlash in the United States. Corona doesn’t even come from a Chinese person; it comes from a strain from an animal, so you can’t blame it on a specific person just because it originated in China.” Evidently, the racism occurring towards Asians can not be justified, yet is being magnified, particularly in the United States. 

For example, a video of an attack against an elderly Asian man collecting recyclables in the Bayview district in California went viral on Instagram, gaining more than 4 million views. An African American man wearing a dark jacket, pants, and sneakers is seen threatening and swinging an object at the elderly man. Moreover, bystanders yell slurs, such as “I hate Asians, n*****.” The victim is crying as others laugh at him, filming his distressed face. San Francisco police initially received backlash for not taking action, but have since identified the perpetrator.  

“The fact that these cynical rumors are being spread while lives have been lost,” said Mark Tseng-Putterman, a graduate student in American studies at Brown University, “millions of Chinese families have had their Spring Festival disrupted, and countless medical workers [of Asian heritage] are putting their lives on the line to contain the virus is quite disappointing.” 

Health officials in Utah were forced to speak out against rumors of the coronavirus as it related to the dance group, Shen Yun. Utah, at the time, had no reports of the disease in its state; however, the rise in Asian American prejudice has exponentially increased. Social media rumors claimed that their return from South Korea could pose a health risk. The County Health Department once again reminded its citizens that the virus is not linked to any ethnic groups. Shen Yun cannot even perform in China, the location where the coronavirus originated. The Communist Party leaders of China claim the group is an “anti-society cult,” due to its promotion of “Falun Gong religious practices,” and the group is therefore banned from performing in China..  

“One of the problems with the way in which xenophobia tends to cling to these kinds of outbreaks, is that we tend really to focus on the wrong things,” said Richard Keller, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. “This did originate in China. That doesn’t mean that the Chinese are more likely to spread it than anyone else.”  

Government agencies have now been urged by the WHO to prevent discrimination against Asian races. The worst possible outcome would be that the stigmatization and fear of discrimination might prevent someone from seeking treatment. It is therefore an urgent reminder that our BCA community must be more wary of the increasing stigmatization against the Asian community and speak out against such instances from occurring.