Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
Along the streets of San Francisco, an elderly Chinese man faces a group of African-Americans as he is robbed. Bystanders cheer on his tormentors. The man, who is the same age as my grandpa, is defenseless as he is mocked, as he is chased down the street where he has collected recyclables for the past year, as he is humiliated. Silent tears stream down his face as he stumbles. Again and again, they scream at him, “I hate Asians!” Again and again, they bash his head with a trash picker. What led to this attack? He was just collecting cans to earn money. He was just collecting cans.
Somewhere in Glendale, a 16-year-old Asian boy is beaten unconscious by fellow students. He is accused of having the coronavirus. But he was born in America. He is an American.
Somewhere in Lower Manhattan, an Asian woman is assaulted on the subway. She was wearing a mask. She was protecting herself. Why is she forced to choose between her health and her safety?
Asian Americans across the country are protesting. We are fearful, we are demoralized, we are angry. Suddenly, it is no longer just toilet paper and hand sanitizer being wrestled among panicked customers. It’s guns. Asian-Americans fearing for their safety are purchasing firearms in response to the terrifying rise of xenophobic hate crimes. I sit behind my computer screen scrolling through Facebook and a 30-second video is uploaded by ABC7 News – it’s racked up 12 million views, 52,000 reacts, 15,000 comments, and 21,000 shares. I click on the comments: “Go back to your country”, “Being punished for what you deserve”, “You brought the virus, go back to China.”
I am utterly gutted… but not completely shocked. This is only one attack among the hundreds of hate crimes reported since the coronavirus outbreak.
I am terrified of the polarization coronavirus has revealed in our country. We’ve dived so deeply into our group psychology that there doesn’t seem to be a way out. This virus isn’t like anything teens my age have experienced, but historically, pandemics have often fueled xenophobia. Tuberculosis was deemed the “Jewish Disease” and rumors were spread that the Irish carried cholera. It seems that since the spread of coronavirus, the media has been a petri dish for racism and blame. Within the first 40 seconds of Pres. Donald Trump’s press conference, the words “Chinese virus” were uttered. By labeling a virus with an ethnicity, it jeopardizes and ostracizes a whole group of people. By being seen as an out-group as the media places blame upon an entire race, it becomes increasingly difficult to have authentic disagreement.
Civil discourse is defined as a discussion between people with different ideas for the purpose of understanding each other. Civil discourse enables disagreement without being disagreeable and is an essential part of democracy in societies. Right now, we are so tightly wedged between scepters of panic and fear-mongering that we seek a scapegoat. We play the blame game the more time we spend in isolation. But this virus has no ethnic identity; it does not discriminate and everyone suffers at its hands. I believe that civil discourse occurs when there is common ground – when we begin seeing ourselves as part of a common group rather than living life built on tribalism. In the present, we find common ground in the wake of a global pandemic. We can use this common ground to illuminate the missing arguments of our perspective as opinions become more and more polarized. This is the reason the military and sports teams are effective in racial integration. Rather than fighting over little scraps, they act as one to pursue a common goal.
I am quarantining with my family and staying away from the community for the community. We create an open dialogue as we communicate despite our differences. We can be loud, we can be powerful, we can stand together.
When keyboards are pounding with anger and fingers fly across the text pad to attack others without consequence… pause. When 140 characters for your freedom of speech are littered with hate, and words are replaced with memes and hashtags “for the gram”… pause. Look around. Your mom, dad, sister, brother. Create a reality for civil discourse instead of a virtual one. We can get through the good and the bad and the ugly and create the good. We stand together.
About the Author: Born in Shanghai, Winnie Xu is a high school student fighting for educational reform and racial equity. She is the co-founder of San Diego Youth Musicians, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization currently raising money for coronavirus efforts through musical service opportunities.
Feature Image via Getty