It really shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
In the wake of the SARS epidemic in 2003, vitriol and racism against Asians and Asian-American spread like… well, you know.
Subway riders refused to sit next to Asian passengers, businesses turned away Asian customers and shoppers avoided Asian-owned restaurants and businesses. One report estimated that Asian businesses lost up to 80 percent of their income that year because of the SARS scare.
And it’s all happening again.
When the coronavirus began to spread and developed into the panic it is now, people inevitably began spreading the same kind of racist nonsense.
Last week, UC Berkley, which has a significant Asian population (40 percent of undergrads were Asian in fall 2019), shared an informational post on Instagram that listed common reactions to the virus. Things like “anxiety,” “feeling helplessness,” and “anger” made the list. Oh, and “xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings,” was also included.
As to be expected, several readers and students commented on the post, calling the university out for what was at worst a racist explanation, and at best an ignorant gaffe. The post was removed almost immediately; the university issued an apology.
In addition to UC Berkley’s social media blunder, multiple Asians and Asian-Americans are reporting instances of racism in real life.
In an article by the Los Angeles Times, one man who works as a cashier recounted how a recent customer asked him to get them a new product when his hand touched the one he was bagging. When the Asian employee asked the customer why, they responded with, “Because you touched it.”
On social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, insensitive memes and viral videos have taken to making Chinese people and those of Asian descent out to be crazed, bat-eating, infection-spreading heathens.
It’s truly a tale as old as white supremacy.
Anti-Asian sentiment, much like any other anti-non-white people sentiment, is entrenched as part of the painful history of our country. Remember the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882? When the United States straight up banned an entire ethnic group from coming to this country? And then the Immigration Act of 1917 and 1924 when they excluded anyone from “Asiatic Barred Zones” from migrating here? Throughout the centuries, Asians, more often than not Chinese people, have been scapegoated for bringing diseases upon the world because of all the “weird” foods that we eat.
But if you look at the numbers, it doesn’t make any sense.
While there have been more than 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus across the world, most of them are concentrated in China, and there have been only 427 deaths. Only 11 confirmed cases have been reported in the United States.
On the other hand, just this season the CDC has reported more than 180,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths from the flu. The flu. And that’s just in the United States.
And yet here we are, surrounded by a bunch of white folks who don’t vaccinate their kids.
During the 2017-2018 flu season, only four out of 10 adults in the United States got a flu shot, making it the lowest rate in seven seasons. That season ended up being one of the deadliest in decades, with more than 80,000 deaths from the infection.
So why are people so afraid of the coronavirus when the flu has been killing more and more people by the week?
Plain and simple: racism!
People are afraid of the exotic, the new, the other. And it’s happening now.
But the next time you see an Asian with a face mask and you feel concerned, maybe worry more about the 4-year-old with the snot running down their face instead.