Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
After multiple weeks of saying “coronavirus,” President Trump has given COVID-19 a new name: the “Chinese virus.”
His reasoning for the sudden shift in the narrative? “It comes from China, that’s why.”
Any time a label is placed on a pandemic, such as the “Spanish flu” in 1918 and 1919, feelings like xenophobia and stigmatization are spurred by the public. (Note that outright xenophobia was perpetuated against Spanish Americans during this time period, despite the fact that the first recorded case of the “Spanish flu” was in Kansas.) Our status quo is no different. Trump’s requests that COVID-19 be referred to as the “Chinese virus” has scapegoated entire groups of people – and as a growing number of Asian Americans reject the label, President Trump has only become more adamant in its usage.
I am well aware of the issues that are going on as a result of the crisis: businesses are suffering, our political systems are failing, and billions around the globe are in a panic. However, the solution is not pointing fingers at a nation and nationality in attempts to absolve any accountability. That’s exactly what our president is doing when he calls COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.”
Labeling COVID-19 the “Chinese” virus is not only corrosive when dealing with a global audience, but it also fuels the open narrative of hatred and fear of “others” that many Americans have adopted during times of crisis. This label that President Trump has adopted doesn’t just fuel hate against China or the Chinese government, but those of Chinese descent, Chinese Americans, and Asians as a whole. This global pandemic calls for a global, unified response. Trump’s taunts, ascribing the virus to one ethnicity or country only alienates entire groups of people. Fearmongering and finger-pointing should never happen. Xenophobia should never be tolerated, and especially in times like this, when it’s already led to an increase of discriminatory behavior against certain ethnic groups, our president should not be endorsing such hate.
The issue that many have with the term “Chinese virus” is not that it didn’t originate in China or that the Chinese government shouldn’t be held accountable. The problem is that our government — and society as a whole — constantly reiterating China’s role in this crisis distracts from looking for useful solutions. Trump playing the blame game is extremely overdone and it doesn’t help anyone, especially during times of a global crisis. In fact, Trump’s shift in blame puts entire ethnic groups at fault in a very otherizing manner.
As a Chinese American, I have been no stranger to the taunts that some use when referring to Asians. However, the use of slurs, insults, and other hate speech against Asians and Asian Americans has only increased in the past few weeks. On February 24th in London, Singaporean student Jonathan Mok was assaulted by a group of strangers in a coronavirus-related attack. On March 3rd, it was reported that a young Asian couple were attacked by a mob on a subway car in Philadelphia. In a video posted on Facebook, two students from Bolsa Grande High School in Los Angeles filmed themselves shouting “coronavirus!” at Asian students, hitting a girl wearing a mask in the face, and mocking Asian culture. Just last week, a family of four were attacked in Midland, Texas, because they were Asian. Bawi Cung Nung and his son, Robert, were brutally stabbed in the face with a knife. Robert has a cut reaching from behind his ear all the way to his eye. The list goes on.
Our president should be speaking about this pandemic with a tone that indicates the severity of the crisis – with language that shows that he, as a public servant, understands the crisis that we’re going through. Now is not the time to be funny or poke fun at the situation, calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “Kung Flu.” Jokes at the expense of a vulnerable population (citizens that are being the target of unwanted harassment and violence) should not be tolerated, especially when there are more than 180,000 Americans suffering from the virus right now. President Trump is only perpetuating the xenophobic attacks that Asian Americans have been victim to – and has even claimed that Asian Americans would “100%” agree with his usage of “Chinese virus,” which simply isn’t true. Our leader’s words of choice empower and endorse racism against Chinese Americans and Asian Americans as a whole. That’s unacceptable.
It’s quite clear that President Trump still does not understand the outrage that has sparked within the Asian American as a result of the term “Chinese virus.” From labeling coronavirus as “Chinese” to saying that the spread of the coronavirus was not the fault of Asian Americans, Trump’s response to the virus has quite obviously shifted. We can’t forget what his original response was — he pointed his fingers at the Asian American community and scapegoated an entire group.
What we need now is solidarity and unity. Not racism.
About the Author: Ashley Shan is a high school student from Dallas, Texas. From a young age, she has been passionate about issues such as Asian activism and educational equality and hopes to use her voice to promote ignored and, as a result, often unheard narratives.
Feature Image via Getty