We are in the middle of a pandemic, fighting novel coronavirus and its resulting disease, COVID-19. The crisis demands an all-hands-on-deck response — we all play a role in stopping the spread of the virus and minimizing the number of deaths. On top of this unprecedented emergency, Asians, Jews, immigrants, and others are facing an additional layer of pressure: blame for the virus.
Blaming those perceived as “the other” for the spread of pandemics is a common theme throughout history. In the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of causing the Bubonic Plague. In the early 19th century, Irish immigrants were blamed for cholera. The LGBT community was vilified during the AIDS epidemic. In each case, the accused community experienced marginalization, oppression, and even violence. This language is damaging and dangerous and has real-world consequences.
Recently, after the White House was criticized for its handling of this emergency, President Trump began to call the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” The president’s rhetoric increased the risk of retaliation and intimidation against Asian Americans.
Extremists have all the while worked diligently online to mainstream hateful language around the disease, including using offensive terms like “Kung flu.”
This tactic is dangerous to anyone perceived as “Chinese.” It doesn’t matter if they are American or some other Asian ethnicity. “Chinese” is being used as a stand-in for any Asian person. Calling the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus” deliberately and cynically links the disease with all Asians. And because hate never limits itself to one group, we are seeing extremists promote coronavirus conspiracy theories targeting Jews, immigrants, and other marginalized groups as well.
Every day we are learning of more reported incidents of violence and hate crimes against Asians, with attackers allegedly yelling “corona” or “coronavirus” during the attacks.
Since January, the Anti-Defamation League has recorded almost four dozen reports of harassment and assault against Asian Americans nationwide. NBC News recently reported that, since March 18th, a newly established tip line has received more than 650 direct reports of discrimination primarily against Asian Americans. We also know that hate crimes often go underreported due to fear of reprisals, language barriers, and other concerns, so the number of incidents is likely far higher.
Bias incidents engender fear – not just for victims, but for entire communities. This fear can be overwhelming and can make it difficult for targeted individuals and groups to do even the most basic acts of living, such as getting needed supplies, seeking medical attention or serving on the front lines of the fight against this pandemic.
In the earliest days of the pandemic, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA), ADL, and Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) noticed the harmful scapegoating of the Chinese community and the broader Asian community.
Our organizations spoke out to condemn this trend. APABA-PA issued a statement exposing this phenomenon and calling for unity in the fight against this virus.
ADL joined nearly 90 Jewish groups in signing a letter expressing support for and solidarity with the Chinese community and published national and local op-eds to educate the public on this critical issue.
PCDC issued a bilingual statement condemning these acts and encouraging victims to report such incidents.
Unfortunately, the hateful and divisive rhetoric has only grown more pronounced in recent days.
We must always reject race-baiting and incitement to violence, and we must be especially vigilant against it amid a global crisis when every individual has a critical role to play. If police must respond to a wave of reported hate crimes against Asians, this means fewer law enforcement resources directed towards containing the outbreak.
If patients are refusing to be treated by Asian doctors, that means increased workloads for others, or patients going untreated.
If essential workers are afraid to go out in public for fear of being attacked, their work will not get done and their co-workers must make up the difference.
We cannot stand by and allow hate and fear to paralyze our society; we must stand up against bigotry to ensure that we can fight this virus together. If you experience or witness a hate crime, report it to law enforcement immediately. Be a good neighbor. Fight back against hate in your community and online. Push back when people misname the virus and make false statements about its spread.
This virus has no race or nationality. Associating it with any group of people is wrong, counterproductive, and, sooner or later, likely deadly. Call the coronavirus and COVID-19 by their real names, and call out everyone who perpetuates this harmful association.
John Chin is the executive director at Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. Shira Goodman is the regional director at the Anti-Defamation League. Djung Tran is the president at Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania.