It Started With ‘China Virus’ and Now We’re Here

Allison Gaines

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Photo Credit | Steven Senne/AP via Washington Post

News of an attack in Atlanta on Tuesday overcast the nation. The slaying of eight people, including six Asian women highlighted the growing threat of homegrown, white domestic terrorism. While anti-Asian racism and xenophobia have always been part of American culture, we’ve seen an uptick in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

It all began last year as Trump used his bully pulpit to call the Coronavirus the “China Virus.” In doing so, he blamed China for the epidemic, which has since killed 2.67 million people worldwide. To be clear — the virus was never China’s fault. Nor was the spread of the virus in America due to anything Asian people did. We’re in this mess, in part because of the failures of the Trump administration. According to a panel evaluating his policies, the United States could have avoided 40% of Covid deaths.

Trump gave the world a master class on white male privilege. Only a white man could have mismanaged a threat of this magnitude and walked away unscathed. Then the pure Caucacity of it all; it’s hard to believe he mustered the audacity to blame others. He blamed Chinese people even though they followed the guidelines set by their government. Using contact tracing, social isolation, social distancing, and lockdowns, the Chinese government got control of the virus much more quickly than Western nations. Yet, white conservatives in America rebelled against mask-mandates and shutdowns that could have saved lives.

Given that Asian Americans as a group make up only about 6 percent of the U.S. population, and that the strain impacting the hardest-hit regions came from Europe, there is simply no basis to single out Chinese Americans for blame. (Porumbescu & Moynihan, 202

OnJanuary 5th, 2020, WHO reported that Wuhan citizens had fallen ill to pneumonia caused by an unknown virus. Later that month, scientists identified the virus. Initially, Trump thanked President Xifor his containment efforts. As the virus progressed, WHO announced that the virus presented a global threat. On February 2nd, Trump claimed in an interview with Sean Hannity, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” So let me get this straight. Trump knew about the virus early on, praised the Chinese government for containing the virus, and then bragged that he kept Americans safe by preventing the virus from leaving China. How can anyone call the virus the “China Virus with any plausibility?

They can’t. There is no justification for associating a deadly virus with Chinese people. In America, these racist statements caused harm. While it’s essential to note that not all Asian Americans are Chinese, all of them bore the brunt of unjustified ridicule and discrimination resulting from this rhetoric.

We started with the “China Virus,” and now we’re here — staring down the barrel of a gun loaded with white supremacy.

Also, WHO warned against naming the virus after any particular country or region. We could have avoided the hateful attacks on Asian Americans if only the people in power listened. Sadly, many Americans engaged in a malicious campaign, associating Asian people with the modern-day plague. Asian people had to endure suspicious glances, bullying, and discrimination in America.

Framing the pandemic as a foreign problem violates international guidelines. The World Health Organization recommends against naming viruses after specific regions because it can lead people to stigmatize ethnic groups unfairly. In the United States, Asian Americans worry that such racialized language will make them the target of public ire” (Porumbescu & Moynihan, 2020)Atlanta area attacks on Asian Americans show growing threat of white domestic terrorism

Tuesday’s attacks in three Atlanta-area salons left the nation in mourning. The assailant left eight people dead; six of the victims were Asian American women. And while police arrested a suspect — 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, pundits have already tried to focus on his alleged mental incapacities. He will get his day in court to defend himself if he chooses. However, white people have a long history of trying to protect one another from accountability. It seems that whenever a white man commits a heinous act, defenses rise quicker than floodwaters. White media representatives continue to show a reluctance to frame these acts authentically. We started with the “China Virus,” and now we’re here — staring down the barrel of a gun loaded with white supremacy.

In white-dominated spaces, it’s too early to say this incident was race-related. However, as a Black woman, I cannot be disillusioned by white-washed rhetoric. America finds itself in a dangerous situation. Minorities are fighting a cold-war against white supremacy. Fighting against racism doesn’t just fall on the victims of oppression. It is incumbent upon every American to dismantle discriminatory systems and beliefs.

The Black and Asian communities have a long history of working together to oppose systems of oppression. White people have often purposefully pitted these groups against one another. Divide and conquer is one of their tried and true techniques. Advocates and Americans, in general, cannot afford to fall for it this late in the game.

“The model minority stereotype really isn’t meant to define Asian Americans. Rather, it’s meant to define African Americans as deficient and inferior to white people by using Asian Americans as a proxy or a pawn to serve that purpose,” Kurashige told Vox. “It was never an accurate portrayal of Asian Americans, but actually consciously meant to distort and stereotype Asian Americans.” (Demsas & Ramirez, 2021)

While Black people want Asian Americans to become loyal allies in the fight against anti-black racism, we cannot afford to let their proximity to whiteness or the model minority stereotype distract or deter. We are living through terrifying times. The reemergence of violent white homegrown extremism jeopardizes the safety of all minorities. We are all on the same side of the field, whether we like it or not. The alternative would be to let these attacks continue until they hit home. And history shows that we shouldn’t go down that path. Perhaps white people and all non-Asians should review Martin Niemöller’s statements at this time.

First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller (1946) (US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Where do we go from here?

Calling the Coronavirus the “China Virus or the Kung Flu is racist. Asian Americans deserve to live in peace. Yet, these racist slurs robbed them of that. And while we started with a hateful slur, we now have a culture of racism and xenophobia that will continue to endanger Asian Americans.

This tragedy echoes Dylan Roof’s decision to shoot and kill nine African American churchgoers. Even though police arrested a suspect, the problem is far from solved. Whether working, jogging, sleeping, or praying, minorities won’t be safe in America until we effectively oust racist ideologies. We started with “China Virus and now we’re here. If we want to transcend this moment, Americans have to start treating homegrown white domestic terrorism with the seriousness it deserve

References:

Demsas, J., & Ramirez, R. (2021, March 16). The history of tensions — and solidarity — between black and Asian American communities, explained. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/22321234/black-asian-american-tensions-solidarity-history

US Holocaust Memorial Museum. (1946, January 6). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists

Porumbescu, G., & Moynihan, D. (2020, September 16). Analysis | TRUMP’S ‘CHINESE VIRUS’ slur makes some people blame Chinese AMERICANS. but others Blame trump. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/09/16/trumps-chinese-virus-slur-makes-some-people-blame-chinese-americans-others-blame-trump/

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