GAO: Why I’m more scared of Anti-Asian hate crimes than getting the coronavirus

The United States has experienced public health scares before, yet the COVID-19 outbreak has caused xenophobia to resurface across America.

Vanderbilt+campus.

Emily Gonçalves

Vanderbilt campus.

Jenny Gao, Staff Photographer

I am an American, born and raised in California, yet in the past month, strangers have accused me of having coronavirus, followed me around grocery stores and sidewalks and made me question if I am safe anymore in my own home. Last week, two children and their father were nearly stabbed to death while they were shopping at a Sam’s Club in Texas solely for being Asian. Last month, an Asian American 16-year old boy in Los Angeles was assaulted and sent to the emergency room after being accused by classmates of having coronavirus, and an Asian woman was chased around a New York subway for wearing a mask and beaten against a wall. These people could have been my little brother, my parents, my grandma, my friends or myself. 

Prompted by the COVID-19 virus, xenophobia-fueled aggression is also spreading as a global pandemic. Across the United States over the past week, more than 650 Asian Americans have reported attacks on the Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate online forum. (If you or someone you know has experienced an incident, please report it here.)

By now, the United States should know that scapegoating specific races for national problems only worsens the problem. Though hurtful, it is not surprising that our current president has reduced the COVID-19 disease to the “Chinese virus.” Outspoken figures tend to remain outspoken even in times of crisis. The real issue we need to focus on is that this labeling has prompted discrimination based on paranoia and an escalation of hate crimes targeting anyone who appears to be of Asian descent. 

There is no typical profile nor demographic of a COVID-19 carrier seeing as every world continent has been infected. As of today, the U.S. has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, while Italy has the highest coronavirus death toll, and yet, the ensuing global discrimination primarily targets Asians. Why?

Is unfounded prejudice truly stronger than the thousands of news reports that debunk it?

Yes, the coronavirus did originate in Wuhan, China. But it makes zero sense to assume the 4 billion people of Asia carry it, or that all Asian origins are the same. Rather, this reliance on stereotypes and appearance not only is rooted in bigotry, but is also an enabler of the racism that has led to many of this nation’s greatest disgraces. Recently, I have been haunted by the idea that our country is reliving instead of learning from its history lessons. The 2014 Ebola outbreak caused an uprise in fear and hate crimes against the African and black communities. During the swine flu pandemic in 2009, the U.S. demonized Mexican Americans and prompted anti-immigration movements. After the Pearl Harbor bombing, the government scapegoated Japanese Americans who had no affiliation with any country besides the U.S. by putting them in internment camps. Historically, the U.S.’s cultural default is to blame immigrant or minority groups whenever a national crisis arises. I have hope, however, that we can do history right this time by supporting one another rather than hurting more innocents.

As a racial minority, I have experienced discrimination before. Most people have. Nevertheless, nothing has made me feel as hated, stereotyped and unsafe as the current situation. Please, speak up if you see injustice occurring. Care for one another since we are all human beings. Police your own thoughts and actions, as all of us are handicapped by the prejudices of our upbringings and our peers. No one deserves to fear that they or their loved ones may be assaulted if they need to buy groceries. No one deserves to feel as if their quarantine at home is still unsafe. No one deserves to believe xenophobia will hurt them more than this virus ever will.