Stop anti-Asian violence

Camilla Tarpey-Schewd, Columnist

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the number of violent hate crimes committed against Asian-Americans. New York Police Department data reported a 1,900 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City in the past year; and the organization, Stop Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Hate, received more than 2,800 reports of discrimination and violence against Asian-Americans between March and Dec. 2020.

One of the main reasons for this increase in violence is former President Trump’s racist rhetoric that blamed China for the coronavirus. Instead of taking the appropriate actions to prevent the spread of the virus, Trump consistently referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus” and the “kung flu.” These actions were harmful because they not only promoted and justified anti-Asian hate and violence, but also distracted people from taking deliberate action to effectively stop the spread of COVID-19.

Illustration by Allyson Kim

I believe that the rise in anti-Asian violence can be largely attributed to the fact that some people have attached an evil symbolic meaning to COVID-19 — that coronavirus is the “Asian Menace.” When Trump uses words that associate COVID-19 with China, it implies that the virus is China’s fault. This is both unscientific and racist, and has led to anti-Asian hate, violence and discrimination.

When particular ethnic groups, such as people with Chinese heritage, are falsely blamed for deadly outbreaks, it can give white Americans a false sense of security or a feeling that they have control over the virus. Falsely blaming groups of individuals for health outbreaks does not prevent the virus from spreading or from infecting people’s bodies; it only justifies hate. 

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory illness that will sicken people who do not take the proper precautions, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, which prevent the virus from entering their bodies. The COVID-19 virus must not be imbued with a sense of agency. COVID-19 does not have a brain or free will, and it does not choose to infect certain individuals or groups over others. 

The association with and the blame placed on Chinese individuals for COVID-19 is not a new phenomenon. There is a long history of blaming racial-ethnic groups for health outbreaks within the US that should be illuminated. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, which restricted Chinese immigration into the US based on the fear that Chinese Americans and immigrants were likelier to carry diseases than the rest of the population. In 1900, in San Francisco, one case of the bubonic plague was found in Chinatown, which led to the forced quarantine of Chinese Americans within the district, even though the white individuals that had recently visited Chinatown were not required to quarantine. This phenomenon does not solely affect Chinese or Asian individuals, but individuals of other ethnicities as well. In 1916, the Polio outbreak was associated with Italian immigrants, and more recently, the 2006 Swine Flu with Mexican-Americans.

In January, President Biden signed an executive order condemning racism and xenophobia, and directing federal agencies to address actions that have been taken against Asian-Americans. While this is a step toward combating the hate and violence that has been and is being directed at Asian-Americans, it’s critical that this issue continues to gain the national attention it rightfully deserves and needs.