‘Chinese Virus’ Is Racist and Asians Are Being Assaulted Because of It

‘Chinese Virus’ Is Racist and Asians Are Being Assaulted Because of It
Maina Chen
March 20, 2020
Update: This article has been updated to change the headline to ‘Chinese Virus’ is Racist and Asians Being Assaulted Because of It.
Since Wednesday, March 18, U.S. President Donald Trump has tripled down on the phrase “Chinese Virus,” as the “accurate” term for the COVID-19 outbreak, in an ongoing number of tweets and in a press conference defending the misnomer.
A new photo of Trump’s notes is trending for its depiction of the word “corona” crossed out and replaced with “Chinese” to describe the pandemic.
In the current social climate, this is not only a thoughtless move, but a dangerous one. The POTUS is actively spreading misinformation and fanning the flames of anti-Asian sentiment with one strikeout. NextShark itself is only one of many news sources that are covering the Asian American community during this global crisis, and yet within just the last two months, the team has been swamped with hundreds of tips of alleged racist incidents and attacks from around the world.
“Never in the HISTORY of NextShark have we gotten THIS many,” Benny Luo, the founder of NextShark states.
New incidents are cropping up every day, and it’s not just because of the coronavirus, but because this nation has a long-standing history with internalized racism and racial oppression. For East Asians, it’s been the “yellow peril”; Japanese American concentration camps; the Chinese Exclusion Act; Vietnam war refugees; Korean, Hmong, South Asian, Filipino, Cambodian, Indian, Pacific Islander migrant workers, and immigrants; the list goes on.
“The racial justice community often ignores the plight of Asian Americans because their successful image is frequently thrown in black and brown faces to silence their cries for improved treatment,” Brando Simeo Starkey explained in The Undefeated. “This isolates Asian Americans from other minorities who otherwise would be allies in the battle against anti-Asian bigotry.”
The model minority myth perpetuates Asians as more successful and “well-behaved” than other minorities, but it also quickly glosses over how staggering the income gap is. By highlighting only the Asians who’ve made it into positions of power, it convinces citizens and those in higher echelons that Asian Americans don’t have any real need for government assistance.
As Seattle University School of Law professor Robert S. Chang wrote, “The portrayal of Asian Americans as successful permits the general public, government officials, and the judiciary to ignore or marginalize the contemporary needs of Asian Americans.”
So when you throw on top of these already pre-existing notions, Trump’s unapologetic use of the term “Chinese Virus” is bad. For a country that harbors systemic racism, more Asian Americans are at risk of xenophobic and racially-charged attacks. Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, Wikipedia launched a page devoted to the prejudiced, xenophobic, racist, violent, and discriminating incidents globally occurring to those of Asian descent.
NextShark has covered over 120 articles, since the beginning of the 2020 year, related to the coronavirus. More than 60 on racism and xenophobia, over 15 on harassment and attacks, and over 40 on stories of Asians fighting the virus in any shape they can: on the frontlines in the hospitals and labs, moral support through social media and musicmassive donations to build a vaccine, and medical team dispatches.
We shouldn’t have to cover a story on a brutal attack in London, bullied high school students in Little Saigon, Koreans stabbed in Montreal, or an Indian immigrant who was mistook for being Chinese and beaten to critical condition in Israel — but we do.
This is the alarming new reality for Asians across the globe and in our country. The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), and more than 260 civil rights groups have come forth to demand the House of Representatives and the Senate come up with “tangible steps to counter the hysteria,” to tackle the surging racism against Asian Americans.
History repeats itself, and to prevent further escalations; we cannot allow such statements to pass. The reason why we view this seriously and condemn the act of calling COVID-19 a “Chinese Virus” or “Kung-Flu” is because we reject the notion of assigning an entire ethnic group as disease-ridden, virus carriers. Rhetoric as damaging as this, especially from the POTUS, is an immediate starting pistol for racists who don’t want to invest time into research and buy into fear-mongering to excuse themselves for their xenophobic behavior, and “allow” themselves to beat, vandalize, and stab Asians.
“The Holocaust didn’t start in the gas chambers; it began with the rhetoric of hate,” Rabina Khan pointed out in Independent, “Hitler certainly used words to disseminate hate, creating prejudice and intolerance against the Jews. People are easily influenced; the words people use, and the way people say them, have a profound effect on us. They can also tap into our desire to ‘fit in with the crowd’. If people are told that the majority of other people are doing something, or believe in something, then some – though not all – will follow suit to avoid being different, or singled out or ostracised.”
The opposite end might argue, “But ‘Chinese Virus’ isn’t racist,” and follow up with, “You’re being dramatic.”
It is not dramatic to claim that the term “Chinese Virus” can unleash a chain of ugly, cancerous racism to engulf us all. All it takes is a person in power with a large following.
“It’s not racist at all. No. Not at all. It comes from China,” Trump defends in the aforementioned press conference and videos below. “I want to be accurate.”
As some Trump supporters lay out, it’s time to brush up on history.
A small history lesson for everyone who uses the “Spanish Flu” argument, or argues for location-based naming for infectious diseases, it has long been pointed out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that such methods are antiquated. The “Spanish Flu” or H1N1 virus from 1918, 100 years ago, in particular, is a misnomer due to WWI. The Allies of WWI called it the Spanish Flu because the pandemic stoked greater press attention when it traveled from France to Spain in November 1918. Since Spain did not impose wartime censorship, the “catchy” name stuck. The CDC is unsure of its original origin, but according to xtimeline, “The disease was first observed at Fort Riley, Kansas, United States, on March 4, 1918, and Queens, New York, on March 11, 1918.”
The above chart also proves the supporters incorrect, because every disease name listed there is location-based, but most of them do not encompass an entire ethnic group. They are specific to the exact area where they’ve originated from: a forest, rivers, a town, a village, a valley, country, etc.
If the antiquated trend were to continue, then COVID-19 would’ve been named the “Wuhan Virus” or after the wet market that it may have come from. However, as the World Health Organization pointed out, since May 8, 2015, the organization took a progressive approach to future infectious disease naming.
“In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO. “We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities…[and] can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”
The WHO has since stressed that it’s imperative that whoever discovers a new disease or strain not use “geographic locations (e.g. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish Flu, Rift Valley fever), people’s names (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), species of animal or food (e.g. swine flu, bird flu, monkey pox), cultural, population, industry or occupational references (e.g. legionnaires), and terms that incite undue fear (e.g. unknown, fatal, epidemic),” when naming it.
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This is not something that’s happened recently either; the coronavirus existed years ago and was first identified in the mid-1960s. A bit of etymology: from the Latin corona (“crown”), the viruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. The current strain’s official titles are COVID-19, 2019 novel coronavirus, or the coronavirus disease.
There are a few Trump supporters who also reject his phrase. Choosing to continue using the term “Spanish Flu” and “Chinese Virus” is the same as ignoring all the ongoing prejudice for those who remotely resemble a Chinese person. Asians are lumped together in this rhetoric that emboldens racists and grants them “permission” to harass and attack. The video below does show the hypocrisy of supposed “leftists” media channels for using the term, but it’s also here to make a point: it doesn’t matter who says it, it is not right.
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Self-defense is understandable, but if one were to go up to an Asian person and tell them to walk away, it’s ludicrous to think that the opposite party is not being confrontational. We have to accept the COVID-19 situation in all its forms as well. Yes, it originated in Wuhan, and yes, Zhao Lijian, representative of China’s Foreign Ministry, pushed an absurd theory that the virus occurred in the U.S. and was brought to Wuhan. He does not speak for all Chinese Americans and Chinese people.
Just as how Trump does not speak for all Chinese Americans when Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, asked: “Do you think using the term ‘Chinese virus’—that puts Asian Americans at risk, that people might target them?” and he responded with “No, not at all. I think they probably would agree with it 100 percent.”
Here is just a snippet of Asian Americans who do not agree:
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We also have to acknowledge the Asian American gun sales spike in conjunction with all these allegations of racial hate crimes and violence. The community is angry, hurt, and scared right now. We can vow to stay together and weather this storm out together, but it’s been proven throughout history, how fear-mongering and the words from someone in great power can have devastating consequences. We may all be different from one another, but the fact remains that we are all human beings. Even if it’s hard, we all need to support each other and keep each other safe.
The coronavirus is frightening, for sure, but as Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the Directer-General of WHO, expertly put, “We need to fight in unison. Stigma is more dangerous than the virus itself.”
Feature Image via Getty
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