Being Asian during the Coronavirus pandemic + a letter to my fellow diasporic Asians

During the Coronavirus pandemic, I’ve had to see and experience a lot of blatant racism and harassment, even from our president himself, who is calling this the “Chinese virus.” When I coughed in class, students joked by saying, “Oh no, we’re all going to get Coronavirus now!” A man moved away from me on the bus while saying on the phone, “I just sat next to a Chinese girl and I didn’t want to risk anything.” Another man yelled at me at the grocery store, saying to get out. My other Asian-American friends and family members have been yelled at, assaulted and kicked out of places. Coronavirus hate crimes are on the rise.

While the Coronavirus pandemic has brought out some of the worst in anti-Asian discrimination, racism toward Asian Americans is not anything new or unique. Asians have been barred from entering the U.S., held in various camps and continue to face active discrimination today, including in the workplace. Racism, fetishization, harassment and assault have all been prominent parts of my life as a young Asian-American woman.

What the Coronavirus has instead is proven that Asians are not, and historically were not, welcome in the U.S. Yesterday, we were model minorities. Today, we are the public enemy.

The model minority myth, created by white people, further upholds anti-blackness by pushing one version the “Asian American story” by painting us all as successful and essentially telling black people, “Look how well that minority group is doing,” even though Asian Americans have the largest income gap of any racial group in the U.S. Asian Americans are a diverse group of people with diverse experiences. 

This myth and saying that COVID-19 “started racism against Asians again” erases experiences like mine, which include delayed treatment of anorexia because counselors were convinced that Asian girls are “naturally thin,” an identity shaped by fetishization, constant racially-motivated sexual harassment and assault.

Many Asian Americans have chosen to share their experiences and concern with racial discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic. I, too, am genuinely scared for my safety and well-being. However, there is a key point that is missing here: What we are perceiving right now as heightened discrimination toward Asians is what many black and brown people have already been facing their entire lives.

Asians are not the only minority group facing discrimination right now. In immigration detention centers where people are held in inhumane and crowded conditions, it is our brown brothers and sisters who are at extremely high risk with little to no medical care. It is vulnerable and low-income communities, particularly black communities, who are disproportionately at risk due to lack of healthcare and the lower quality of medical care. Racial discrimination is affecting us all, not just Asians. Unfortunately, much of the conversation around racism during the Coronavirus pandemic seems to have focused only on the experiences of Asian Americans.

This is not to say that race is the only factor in who is more vulnerable during this crisis. Low-income families, those in poverty, those working service jobs who have been laid off and those who are homeless are examples of people who are more vulnerable during this crisis. The working class has been hit the hardest by all of this. But it’s also important to note that black and brown people disproportionately make up those groups.

To my fellow Asians who may have given into upholding the minority myth, now is a wake-up call to see that white privilege does not benefit us. To my fellow Asian Americans who have either been left out, or chosen to stay out of racial justice conversations, we must stand together with our black and brown communities. We cannot continue to stay quiet about our black and brown brothers and sisters who are particularly vulnerable right now and have been in other times of crisis. 

To do this, we must address anti-blackness and the role that white supremacy plays in our own communities. We must call out our fellow Asian friends and family members. We must support our black and brown communities and stand with them, knowing that while we do not have the same experiences, that we are fighting against the same thing.

Conversations about race during the COVID-19 crisis cannot only focus on Asians. Now is a wake-up call more than ever to stand together and address racism, white supremacy (and its ties with the global spread of capitalism) and its devastating effects.

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