Over the last few weeks, COVID-19 has caused a mass panic in the United States.
Despite constant warnings from the CDC that, while the virus is dangerous, we shouldn’t panic, we have. Supermarkets have been raided for food and toilet paper, the economy is in a freefall as business is at a standstill, and most people have become afraid to leave their houses.
Most of this is understandable. The coronavirus has become a real threat in recent weeks, infecting hundreds of thousands of Americans and killing thousands. It’s been shown to spread quickly and be severe for the elderly and immunocompromised, and it has the potential to overwhelm our healthcare system if we let it spread unhindered.
We’ve already seen in other countries like Italy how bad things have gotten because they didn’t act appropriately, and we want to avoid the situation getting that bad.
However, while our concern has spurred a lot of productive responses, it’s also resulted in many negative responses. The largest of these has been an elevated suspicion of Asians.
Whenever there’s a problem, the natural human instinct is to find someone to blame. In this coronavirus crisis, there are a lot of candidates — governments, companies, each of us — but no one is clearly the cause.
However, because the virus originated in Wuhan, China, the finger has quickly been turned towards people from Asia.
Already, anti-Asian sentiment has grown incredibly high. We can see this in the media, with some outlets calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or even “Kung flu”, or with things like the New York Post putting the photo of an Asian man on an article discussing a coronavirus case, when the case in question was a 30 year old white woman.
This has made people immediately associate the virus with Asia, and distrust anyone of Asian descent by making them think Asian immediately means you have the coronavirus.
This media bias has in turn had real life consequences. There have been insane stories of anti-Asian racism, like a woman at a coffee shop demanding her coffee be remade because the barista who made it was Asian. People have also begun avoiding Asian businesses, because they’re afraid that the Asians who run them could transmit the disease.
We can see that the coronavirus is adding on to this quiet fear and distrust of Asians that already exists in the US, and it’s sowing division during a time when unity is more necessary than ever.
That’s why, if you’re in the US right now, you can take some initiative to help stop the association of Asians with the coronavirus, and keep us together.
Speak out if you see someone calling the coronavirus by a racist name, or assuming an Asian has the virus just because of their race. Support Asian-owned businesses, who are being hammered by racist boycotts. And spread information so that people realize that Asian doesn’t automatically equal coronavirus.
Already, the US is being strained in new ways by the coronavirus pandemic, and we don’t need to add on a layer of racism to it. We have enough to worry about, and if we’re going to get through this, it’ll be by working together and each doing our part to quash the spread of the disease.