Since the spread of the coronavirus began in late 2019, a new wave of racism and xenophobia has plagued Asian-Americans. Just a couple weeks ago, President Donald Trump referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” then denied the term is racist. Though the coronavirus originated in China, there is no evidence that people of Asian descent are more likely to be carriers or bear responsibility for its transmission, but ignorance has put Asian-American lives in danger from racist attacks.
Incidents of Asians being harassed physically and verbally have proliferated on social media, with one video showing someone spraying Febreze on an Asian man on the subway in New York City and someone else yelling offensive remarks at an Asian woman. Globally, there were recently reports from London of two teens assaulting a 23-year-old Singaporean university student.
“It’s very frustrating and annoying to see this happen during a time that is very modernized and accepting, yet we still have these individuals that are unreasonably outliers,” says Steven Huynh, a 20-year-old of Vietnamese descent, after he saw a post on Instagram showing Belgian students wearing Chinese garments with a sign stating “Corona Time”
“I just think that the number of attacks [on] Asian Americans and immigrants overall have been due to innate racists looking for an incentive to cover up their hate toward a group of people,” said Huynh.
“It is not surprising that a new disease leads to public fear, stigma, and the scapegoating of certain kinds of people because we tend to understand these events through our past disease rhetoric, which is rooted in fear, stigma, and scapegoating,” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Cisneros professor Josue David Cisneros told Business Insider.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, came under fire last month after the administration delayed the Chinese American Students Association’s Lunar New Year celebration and the Chinese Student Scholars Association’s lantern festival, but other events like winter carnival and basketball games went on as planned. Black and African student group events were also restricted to only RPI students.
“Seeing stuff on social media and seeing it happen on campus by the administration [is] a serious problem,” said Juliana Alvarez, a RPI student and member of the multicultural clubs at the school.
Florida International University (FIU) made the decision to cancel all events until April 4 due to the virus. “I’m not sure if going to FIU people are generally more informed about the current news about it or just more tolerant of other cultures and don’t assume Asian equals corona carrier,” said Brian Lun, a Chinese American senior at FIU.
Officials have been stepping in to try to stem the escalation of racist and xenophobic attacks. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York tweeted his support for the Asian community after another assault in New York City, home to the largest Chinese population outside of Asia.
“Coronavirus is NO excuse for racism. This assault is disgusting … NY stands with the Asian community,” Cuomo tweeted.