Many of us who lived through the post-9/11 months of 2001 were bracing for the inevitable ugliness of American racism to rear its head during the coronavirus crisis. And the first-hand stories from Asian Americans in San Francisco and beyond are beginning to emerge as fear breeds hatred and the ignorant look for someone to blame.
Asians of all ethnicities are facing similar glares and more overt attacks in public as Chinese Americans and immigrants — with China being the source of the novel coronavirus and many Americans unable or uninterested in differentiating Korean Americans from Filipino or Vietnamese Americans. As the New York Times notes in a new piece, the echoes from the days and months after September 11 are disturbing in their similarity, when Sikhs were lumped in with any number of brown-skinned or turban-wearing individuals as would-be Arab terrorists.
One main difference in this crisis is that we had a president 19 years ago, George W. Bush, who at least came out publicly to discourage racial and hate attacks against Muslims and others. Instead we have a president and his virtual state media arm (Fox News) that continues to call it the "Chinese virus" and foster further hate because he's a venal moron who thinks this wins him votes.
The Times tells the story of San Francisco resident Yuanyuan Zhu, 26, who says she was standing on a street corner on her way to the gym on March 9 when a perfectly "normal" looking man shouted expletives about China — and shouted at a passing bus to "run them over." Then, stuck at a crosswalk with the man, Ms. Zhu got too close, and the man spit on her, hitting her face and sweater. Per the Times, she hurried away and "found a corner where no one could see her, and she cried quietly."
A video emerged last week of a near fight breaking out at the Target store in Daly City between a white dude and an Asian man who had apparently coughed while shopping in the store. The video shows the white guy telling the Asian man, "No, you're racist!" and then telling him just to "walk away."
The original video was posted by HR-Vex on YouTube and shows one racist white dude yelling at an Asian guy to go away. You can see one chic coming from left field trying to side bust and telling the man to walk away because she has xenophobia and is a racist as well. pic.twitter.com/5QN3Sa3wMv— Jackfroot (@TheJackfroot) March 19, 2020
As the Mercury News reports, the San Francisco-based Chinese for Affirmative Action along with the Asian American Planning and Policy Council (A3PCON), and the San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Department have launched a website to collect stories like these from Asian Americans, as they've already heard a number coming in from friends and family.
"In Los Angeles, a child in San Fernando Valley was physically assaulted at his middle school and accused of having the coronavirus simply because he is [Asian]," the groups write.
Using a Google form, they're asking for people to report any incident of micro-aggression, violence, or hate-fueled attack so that they may "monitor incidents in CA and around the country."
Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of Los Angeles-based A3PCON, tells the Mercury News, "I’m also working with a group of attorneys who might be able to provide pro bono legal assistance to individuals if they, for example, experience workplace discrimination or housing discrimination."
California Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) issued a statement last week saying, "COVID-19 is a public health issue, not a racial one. Calling it a ‘Chinese virus’ only encourages hate crimes and incidents against Asian Americans at a time when communities should be working together to get through this crisis." Governor Gavin Newsom similarly called for Californians not to direct blame or hatred on what has quickly become a global health crisis that does not discriminate.
The attacks are happening all over the world this time — not just America, since this is pandemic knows no national boundaries. Jia Liang Sun-Wang, a Chinese Spanish PhD student, posted the photo below back on February 3, as the coronavirus threat and fears took hold in Spain.
Necesitamos vuestro apoyo, no vuestros ataques racistas.— Jia Liang Sun-Wang (@JLSunW) February 3, 2020
We need your support, not your racist attacks.
Necessitem el vostre suport, no els vostres atacs racistes. #NoSoyUnVirus #IamNotAVirus #NoSócUnVirus #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus https://t.co/KFjDV6WW0O pic.twitter.com/coITvs0LeF
Sadly, we've likely only seen the beginning of such incidents as the rest of the country comes to grip with the vast economic and social impacts of the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders are likely coming to many more cities and counties in the coming weeks — New York City, where thousands of new cases are now being confirmed daily, only instituted its shelter-in-place on Sunday night.
San Francisco State researchers say that between early February and March 7, they saw a 50-percent increase in the number of news articles about attacks on Asian Americans related to the coronavirus. And they recommend that California, for one, establish a statewide "Stop AAPI Hate Center" (AAPI stand for Asian American and Pacific Islander), and append all CDC information about the virus with statements like "Do not assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have 2019-nCoV."