The Spread of Coronavirus and Xenophobia

2020 has been a weird year to be an Asian-American. On one hand, we see Asian-made movies like “Parasite” and “The Farewell” winning awards, and musical acts such as BIGBANG, BTS, and BLACKPINK finding international success.

This makes me proud to be an Asian in America. However, 2020 also brought the coronavirus outbreak, and with that came an alarming rise of xenophobia, racism toward Asian people. At first, I thought it was just Twitter jokes, so I was not too bothered, but as time went on, I noticed unusual behavior from people around me.

Coronavirus is a flu-like illness and was first detected in Wuhan, China. It is easily transferable and can be fatal to the elderly or to people with preexisting conditions. Because it originated in China, people seem to think that Asians have a higher chance of carrying the virus. Blaming groups of individuals for the origin of a disease is not only blatantly racist, but dangerous. Asian people are being attacked, discriminated against, and ostracized simply because they are Asian.

A Vietnamese curator’s attendance at an event was cancelled because she would have “created hesitation on part of the audience to enter the exhibition space.”

The organizer of the event realized that this decision was ignorant and blamed it on what he thought might be attendees’ reaction to seeing *gasp* an Asian. Another incident, in London, shows to what extremes people will go to blame their racism on coronavirus. Jonathan Mok, a Singaporean student, was attacked by a group of white men because they didn’t want his “coronavirus in our country.” These men, knowing the virus is spread by physical touch, voluntarily assaulted this man.

It does not help that President Trump – and House minority leader, Republican Kevin McCarthy – referred to the disease as a “Chinese virus.” That only added fuel to the flames and gave ignorant people an excuse to blame Asians — technically Chinese people, but non-Asian people seem incapable of telling the difference anyway.

I have started to notice that people in public spaces stay away from me, stare at me when I cough, and act like I’m about to infect everyone…until I speak perfect English. My friends can’t help but talk about coronavirus, and they drag me into the conversation. I do not know more about the virus just because I’m Asian, and I definitely don’t have a greater chance of carrying it.

Coronavirus is doing to Asian people what Ebola did to African Americans in 2014; it stigmatized and skewed perceptions of that group and somehow justified blatant racism just because a disease originated from a certain area. They aren’t talking about people who can’t seem to stop traveling, and who refuse to quarantine themselves.