Prejudice and the pandemic

Because the COVID-19 pandemic traces back to China, people have associated the disease with Asian people in general. At the height of the pandemic, violence and hostility toward people of Asian descent drastically increased across the U.S.

“You’re lucky that you’re Asian. That’s why you’re so smart.”

“Where are you really from?”

“You’re really pretty for an Asian.”

As an Asian American, I have heard these microaggressions my entire life. This past year, however, anti-Asian sentiments in the United States have been on the rise.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic traces back to China, people have associated the disease with Asian people in general. Many Americans, including former President Donald Trump, have publicly referred to the illness with derogatory names, such as the “China virus” and “kung flu.”

These narratives are ignorant, and this type of rhetoric is detrimental to the public perception of Asians, harming individuals in these groups both physically and emotionally.

On March 16, eight people were killed in shootings at massage parlors in the Atlanta area. Six of these victims were women of Asian descent. This just goes to show that these issues are not isolated to cities in New York and California; they are extremely close to home and are a problem in every corner of the nation.

These acts of anti-Asian violence take a huge toll on Asian American families and communities already hurting due to the sharp increase in hate crimes and anti-Asian sentiment over the last year.

At the height of the pandemic, violence and hostility toward people of Asian descent drastically increased across the U.S. According to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. increased by almost 150% in 2020.

Last March, a man stabbed and attempted to kill three members of an Asian American family, including two young children, while they were shopping at Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas. The man later admitted he did it because he thought they were infecting people with the coronavirus.

In July 2020, an elderly Asian woman was set on fire by two Brooklyn teenagers, and throughout the pandemic, Asian American medical professionals have been verbally abused, spat on and rejected by patients.

This violence has persisted into the new year. In late January, an 84-year-old Thai man was violently shoved to the ground and killed on his morning walk in San Francisco.

These traumatic events highlight the racism emboldened by the prejudicial words of Trump and other influential individuals in the U.S. The Trump administration scapegoated Asian Americans and, for some Americans, it was easy to blame Asian citizens for the fear and hopelessness reverberating across the nation. This is a recurring issue in our country.

Throughout our history, people of Asian descent have commonly been referred to as the “model minority” group, and while this may sound like a compliment, it can trivialize racism in the community.

The stereotypes that come with the model minority myth present Asian people as a monolith — the assumption that Asians are inherently smart and successful due to their race. Because of this assumption, their experiences with prejudice and oppression often go unseen.

This mindset is also prevalent even within the Asian American community, as individuals in these groups attempt to assimilate and consequently internalize these beliefs. Many Asian Americans are in denial about the discrimination that they experience, and their struggles are overlooked.

A survey performed by the National Institute of Justice suggests that Asians are the most likely to underreport offenses, such as hate crimes, to law enforcement officials.

When you are constantly told that other minority groups should look up to you because you are somehow “better” than them, it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that you too face racism and prejudice on a daily basis. This presentation of minority groups as competitors also makes it more difficult for them to work together in the fight against oppression.

The U.S. claims to be a melting pot, a diverse mix of people who appreciate each other’s differences, but this does not describe the reality of our situation.

Time and again, minority groups face discrimination, belittlement and antagonism. People in positions of power promote harmful stereotypes and racist narratives.

These people are rarely held accountable for their actions and, in many instances, are supported more fervently after expressing their primitive beliefs. In these situations, racism and ignorance are able to emerge from the shadows and rear their ugly heads for everyone to see.

We can never make progress if the solution to all of our problems is finding someone to blame. The road to a more perfect union has no room for racism, hate or xenophobia.

Our leaders need to stop being part of the problem and alternatively, start calling out racism and hypocrisy in every instance.

The fear and uncertainty from which racism stems are a dangerous combination, and we’ve been put in far too many situations that make us fearful and uncertain over the last year.

Yet this is no excuse for hatred. In difficult times, we need to come together instead of ripping each other apart because at the end of the day, we’re only hurting ourselves.