People of Asian descent throughout the world have experienced an increase in acts of racial aggression since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. A website, “Stop AAPI Hate,” created in mid-March to track such incidents received 650 reports during its first week online. And that only included acts reported by people who knew about the new website. In one month, almost 1,500 acts of verbal or physical hostilities had been reported on the site.
Examples of anti-Asian bias in Texas range from attempted murder to stereotyping and hate speech. On March 14, a Burmese father and his young sons (ages 2 and 6) were attacked and stabbed in a Midland Sam’s Club by an assailant who said he targeted the family because he thought they were Chinese and infecting people with coronavirus. In early March, while standing in line at an early voting site in Irving, a Vietnamese-American veteran of three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan coughed after taking a sip of water and began to choke. The woman ahead of him chastised him for being sick and told him, “All you Asian people are spreading that coronavirus.” Here in Houston, on April 8, a woman pushing a shopping cart through a Kroger parking lot on Buffalo Speedway began screaming at an Asian-American couple to “Get out of our country! Get out of the United States, you ugly [expletive]!” The couple, owners of a restaurant in the same strip mall, was shocked, terrified and humiliated. And, indeed, they were in their own country.
The rise in anti-Asian rhetoric and violence related to COVID-19 is tacitly fueled by elected officials at the highest levels who refer to the virus as the “Chinese virus” or blame China and Chinese people for being “the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS, the swine flu, and now the coronavirus.” Never mind that MERS is an acronym for Middle East respiratory syndrome and the swine flu began in North America.
As the pandemic threatens the wellbeing of virtually everyone on the planet, this is a good time to remember that we’re all in this together. People of good conscience can help their Asian and Asian-American neighbors by becoming allies to them.
The first step is recognizing that we are all members of the human race, a category that is vastly bigger than any one racial, ethnic, language, religious or other sub-group. Indeed, we are far more alike than we are different. The second step is to try a few of these suggestions when the opportunity arises or when you feel moved to seek out the opportunity yourself:
Say something when someone is being targeted or demeaned for their race or ethnicity. This takes courage, tact and quick assessment. Obviously, you don’t want to endanger the targeted person, yourself or anyone else. A recent online workshop jointly organized by Hollaback!, a nonprofit that works to end harassment, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) offered a number of actions that could be used by bystanders when they observe harassment. They include:
- Causing a small distraction, such as dropping your purse, your phone or a handful of change or asking for directions. Just something to distract the harasser and break the tension.
- Enlisting the help of someone nearby, such as the person sitting next to you or someone in a position of authority (a bus driver, salesperson, etc.). Although it’s best not to call 911 or a law enforcement officer without asking the victim’s permission first.
- Whenever possible, if someone else has stepped in to help, try to capture a video of the situation (you can pretend you’re checking your emails). When the situation calms down, ask the person being harassed if they would like a copy of the video.
- When the situation is under control, check in with the person who was being harassed, “I’m sorry that happened to you. Would you like me to sit with you, or can I help you with anything?”
Reach out to Asian and Asian-American friends, neighbors and co-workers to express your support for them. Tell them you’ve read about racist acts and comments related to the coronavirus. Ask if they’ve been targeted and let them know you support them.
Educate yourself about the Asian and Asian-American experience in the United States, especially about the history of anti-Asian discrimination. The Chinese were the first major wave of Asian immigrants to come to Texas in the mid to late 1800s, leaving the U.S. west coast following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Emancipation had also left southern landowners and businesses without a source of cheap labor, and the Chinese were reputed to be industrious and docile. In Texas, as was the case throughout the United States, they and subsequent Asian immigrants were shunned and mistrusted for their appearance, language, culture and all manner of suspicions about them.
Examine your own biases with respect to Asian people and cultures. Don’t be ashamed to admit to yourself that you have biases. We all have them. You can’t grow up in a racist society without them.
Take action, no matter how small, to counter racism in any way you can.