Leaving aside the disaster that is the handling of this virus in America or indeed the world over, the rising tide of xenophobia against East Asian people during this crisis against all of humanity is sadly expected. Built from fear, stemming from history and covered in a glaze of political one-upmanship, racism is a tool for the haves to wield against the have-nots.
Racism of this kind isn’t new. It isn’t startling and it’s sadly what many among the Asian community have come to expect. For all that the world has progressed into modern technology, old racial hatreds still exist. They are still evident in American society and unfortunately, perpetuated across multiple generations.
The reality is that, any minority that has grown up in the US, whether in a small town or big city, will face racism. Some may balk at this critique, saying that large progressive cities are forward thinking and would never teach their children this but the experience that many Asian minorities, whether they are Chinese or of another Asian ancestry, says otherwise. Even in the year 2020, if you’re an Asian man who walking into an elevator in a nice building in an affluent neighborhood with a bag of food, residents may think you’re a deliveryman. Some may even demand you take the service elevator, never thinking that you too are a resident of this building.
Even before the Virus spiraled out of control in China, there was already talks and jokes among mainstream media filled with slurs. Old slurs joined the new as phrases were coined to push headlines and serve as clickbait. Perhaps not since Pearl Harbor and the Japanese Internment Camp era has hatred and suspicion against Asian peoples been so blatant. Does it matter that there are entire generations of people that descend from Chinese heritage but don’t speak the language or have ever visited China and yet are still a target of slurs and assaults? The reaction by many seem to say that if someone looks vaguely Asian, they should be held with suspicion if not outright disgust.
So too, has the racism spread, moving from whites to those of color who also now regard the Asian minority in America with suspicion. A new reality is beginning to form in places all over the world, one where other minorities have joined with their former oppressors to disparage Asians in their community. Never mind that in the greater world that we live in, Asians make up a significant portion of the worlds population and economy. Never mind that Chinese factories produce an overwhelming majority of the worlds goods. Never mind that many Asian people are working essential necessary jobs such as doctors, nurses, pharmacy techs, fire and law enforcement.
At once both praised and villainized, there is an entire subset of the Asian community, those working in life saving jobs, serving in limbo. Rumors that CoVid patients that are grateful for the care provided by their doctors in overwhelmed hospitals, abruptly turning away when they realize their doctor with a white name is a person of Asian descent. It apparently doesn’t even matter if you an adopted Asian person, just that you are Asian is enough to end all civility. These heroes have risen up during a time of humanities greatest need and they do not deserve the enmity they are receiving.
That is not to say the world hasn’t changed and many more than not are aware that we live in a global economy and that a virus can be brought to our shores by anyone. Most of the Virus in New York has been traced to come from Europe which, given the East Coasts’ proximity to Europe, makes a great deal of sense. Just looking at the immigrant populations of Europeans on the East Coast vs West Coast of the United States is enough to show that, yes most likely, the East Coast strain of the virus did come from Europe. It is likely true that the West Coasts strains came from East Asia.
All of that is to say, that what makes a great deal of sense and is backed by science will still be cast aside by those seeing through a lens of racism and ignorance. It will not matter to Western culture, so used to not wearing a mask, that a huge majority of all East Asian Cultures wear masks even when there isn’t a pandemic. To those who have grown up all their lives wearing a surgical mask in their daily life, it is a mark of respect to wear a mask and not spread your germs to others. In Asia, not wearing a mask is seen as disrespectful and instead is subject to stigma and suspicion. Oh the irony.
These days, it is finally recommended to wear a mask in the United States. Perhaps a case of too little too late, people are finally coming around to the idea that wearing a mask keeps people safe. Will we see a shift in the perception of masks and have Americans adopt masks full time once this is over? Doubtful. Hopefully in the interim, masks will keep people safe from germs but a mask serves as a poor shield against acid splashed on the body, fists beating into muscle, and slurs knifed into the heart.
In the end, racism is not new and this rising trend of hatreds against Asians is just another in the long line of ignorance perpetuated by people who choose to do what is easy, giving into negativity and fear. In many respects this is par for the course, because as long as humanity see’s color difference as a negative attribute rather than as strength in diversity, we will never grow beyond the small minded fear that we once knew millions of years ago, a shivering mass, huddled around a camp fire wearing animal skins and grunting at each other.
In a time of such grief and sorrow, divisiveness of this nature will only fan the flames of further hatred. Our only chance is to work together, tearing down borders and seeing humanity as a singular being, with the goal of making our society hale and hearty. Fear makes a smart person say ignorant things, hope makes a person believe in acts of mutual support and sacrifice. Let us all join together, even while socially distance, to never drift far from each others’ hearts.