The “Chinese virus” is fueling anti-Asian-American sentiments. We need to talk about how to change the narrative.

I remember feeling angry, embarrassed, and helpless on the bus ride home. I remember thinking that something was not right with how my white elementary school peers were singing nursery-like songs about Chinese and Japanese people while using their fingers to make their eyes slanted. But being 10, I didn’t have the words to describe how I was feeling. I couldn’t even place a finger on WHAT exactly I was feeling. So I never said anything. Instead I just laughed along.

The Asian-American experience is made up of racism, stereotypes, and microaggressions that manifest in subtle but everyday ways. From the fox-eye trend to being asked “so where are you REALLY from?”, racism against Asian-Americans has been normalized to the point where it’s almost invisible. Racism should never be acceptable, yet these “harmless” comments and attitudes show up in our daily lives.

As we near the one-year mark of the United States going into COVID-19 quarantine, violence against Asian-Americans is on the rise, with more and more incidents on the news each day. The NYPD reported that anti-Asian hate crimes increased 1900% in 2020. In just the first two months of 2021, an 84-year-old Thai man was violently shoved and killed, a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed across the face, and a 75-year-old Asian-American man was left brain dead after an assault and robbery. A few days ago, a white man shot and killed eight people, including six Asian women, in spas in Atlanta. These are only four incidents out of thousands.

Asian-Americans have long faced a history of oppression and stigmatization. The model minority myth, a concept created by white people, assumes that Asian-Americans have “succeeded” in this country and enjoy class privilege. This stereotype not only pits us against the BIPOC community, but also assumes that Asian-Americans don’t face racial discrimination. As a result, microaggressions and violence against us are overlooked. Many in our community, especially our elders, have been socialized to keep quiet and mind our own businesses in order to avoid conflict.

COVID-19 has increased and intensified these hate crimes. Former president Donald Trump’s labeling of the virus as the “Chinese virus,” as well as a general mishandling of the country’s response to the pandemic, did not help. Associating a virus with a group of people is scapegoating that distracts from the systemic racism that is already not talked about. Not only are we facing an uptick in violence, but many of our communities have been extremely negatively affected economically. The association of Asians and the virus has left Chinatowns across the country looking like ghost towns, and many long-standing, family-owned businesses have been forced to shut down permanently.

Photo by Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The impact of COVID-19 on Asian-American well-being has been quickly glossed over. They are “the invisible minority,” falling on neither side of the white and black binary. But we cannot remain silent any longer. We will not remain invisible any longer. Asian lives matter and right now we are in danger. So what do we do?

The initial answer seems obvious. For starters, speak up and spread awareness. Outsiders to the Asian-American community may not have the information needed in order to grasp the significance and urgency of what is currently happening. Share facts and personal experiences to educate those around you, whether it’s posting on social media or having face-to-face discussions with family and friends. The first step to change is sharing stories and initiating those difficult conversations. From day-to-day conversations to media coverage, we cannot allow this topic to be sugar coated or avoided. We need to tell it like it is.

The next form of action should be establishing or participating in mutual-aid organizations for communities with large Asian-American populations, such as Chinatowns. Groups such as Think!Chinatown run community relief programming, including encouraging supporting local restaurants and stores, donations, and reporting incidents. Others such as Chinatown Block Watch and Compassion in Oakland provide neighborhood patrols and chaperone services to stand together and protect each other within the community.

Educating others and mobilizing within the community are only the first steps. We must next strive to change the norms regarding Asian-American stereotypes and discrimination. It cannot only be us fighting for and helping ourselves. We as a society must go the next mile in overcoming anti-Asian violence and bias.

My head and my heart hurt. Every new incident clings onto me and weighs me down more. I’m scared to walk around my city alone. I’m scared that my grandparents or my parents will be next.

I’m scared for Asian-Americans that I don’t know. Asian-Americans that might not speak English. Asian-Americans who cannot defend themselves. Asian-Americans who are innocent yet are at the risk of being brutalized.

Do not be silent. Educate yourself. Listen to our voices and our pain. Speak up and support us.

Everyone, regardless of whether you are Asian-American or not, must stand in solidarity with the marginalized by actively practicing anti-racism and fighting against xenophobia each day. Until we are all free, none of us are free.

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