Updated: May 11, 2020
As Covid 19, now known as the coronavirus, has been confirmed in 103 countries across the globe, its effects have reached far beyond its infected victims. Despite the range of media and political coverage of this pandemic, its most underestimated consequence may be found in the surge of xenophobia against Asian Americans. Throughout the United States, Asian Americans have reported being harassed in public in a variety of ways, ranging from bystanders taunting them with racist remarks such as “Go back to China!” and being yelled at for wearing facial masks in public. Besides threats to their personal safety, Asian Americans have also felt the impact of such xenophobia in their wallets. Restaurants and other businesses owned by Asian Americans, such as those found in Los Angeles’ Asian district, have reported their business to be down by 50%. While most professional service industries employing Asian Americans have not reported such concerns, countless Asian American businesses responsible for direct interactions with customers have felt the economic consequences of coronavirus-fueled racism.
The strategy of public health agencies may be partially to blame for the severe impacts the coronavirus has had on the Asian American community. As pandemics are commonly addressed by bureaucratic agencies in a manner that pinpoints vulnerable populations and suggests limited contact among certain demographics, many Americans have severely misinterpreted the warnings to mean that they should avoid contact with Asian individuals. As Assistant Professor at Columbia University, Merlin Chowkwanyun, notes, “race [acts] as an organizing principle to define problems in the economy, problems in the culture, problems in the political domain,” therefore it was predictable that race would characterize Americans’ response to the pandemic. In the United States, we must take active steps to dispel xenophobic myths surrounding the coronavirus in order to ensure that our Asian American residents are being treated with dignity and respect. By perpetuating racist ideas about the coronavirus, the genuine effort to fight the spread of this pandemic is stagnated, making it more likely that US residents will succumb to the illness.