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Opinion: As The Health Threat Of COVID-19 Rages On, Asians Face A Bigger Threat: Racial Attacks

Schools in Victorian, Australia banned even healthy Chinese kids from attending school due to coronavirus fears

By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer

Who would have expected that this virus, first discovered in Wuhan, China would not only cause mass hysteria all over the world, but also be manipulated and exploited and cause racial backlash towards the Chinese/Asian diaspora.

Now that COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly throughout Europe and the West, with the Asian nations of China and South Korea seeing significant reductions in cases, this racism and xenophobia sees no end. When the world first knew about COVID-19, the blame was solely put on China and on Chinese people, with the Western and European media having a field day pedaling old racist rhetoric that the “Chinese” eat everything and that this virus originated from the Chinese” eating bats.

Instead of focusing on the virus itself and preparing themselves, Western and European governments and tabloid media detracted and focused on spreading anti-Chinese rhetoric and placing the blame on the Chinese, with countries like USA and Australia ( following the USA) placing a Chinese entry ban without thought on how it will impact the economy as well as on Chinese international students. But when the virus went out of control in Italy and other European countries, Australia refused to place entry bans for Italians/Europeans until recently, when its pretty much too late. President Trump also delayed placing a travel/entry ban on Europeans, but didn’t hesitate on placing a ban on foreign nationals from China in January.

When this virus news first broke out in January, I flew into Sydney Airport from a two week trip in Malaysia- planning a relaxing trip to see my family and friends. What I didn’t expect was the sheer racism and xenophobia that was to come in Australia. There were a number of flights which arrived at the same time as mine coming from different cities in China, and after I collected my luggage and was about to go through a final customs check, a Border Force officer ( yes that is what they are called in Australia) walked up to me and asked:

“Which part of China did you just return from?”

As someone who is very sensitive to issues around racism, I took offense and confronted the officer about his line of questioning and the assumption that I had flow in from China when in fact I had arrived from Malaysia. Anyways, once he walked off after getting berated, I walked out into the arrivals hall. From the corner of my eye, I spotted an older White Australian woman waiting for someone to come out. I walked past her and coughed because my throat was dry. She then looked at me and said:

“Get away from me with your “Chinese virus”,

and she literally ran off to wait somewhere else. I was dumbfounded at how non-Asian Australians were that racist and xenophobic, but later reminded myself that this xenophobia has been around for a very long time and has been pushed by governments and tabloid media in Australia for decades. Now, in saying that I do want to point out that the racism against the Chinese/Asian diaspora coming out of COVID-19 is merely a symptom of the yellow peril which has existed in the West and parts of Europe since the 1800s. When the virus is contained , the stench of racism and the link of COVID-19 with Chinese/Asians will stick around for years to come. The old negative and racist tropes of “Chinese/Asians eating everything (dogs, bats, etc)” have been around since I was a kid growing up in Australia and is still here today. This racism will just continue to linger and become even more insidious and entrenched.

Sadly, in Australia this has caused mass hysteria and racism with Chinese and Chinese/East Asian looking Australians being beaten up, attacked, racially vilified and humiliated in public. There have been cases where Chinese/Asian Australian kids were beaten up in school and asked if they had the virus, and medical professionals in hospital and medical practices facing racism with non-Asian Australians not wanting their help just because of racial background.

In the USA, it is no different with many brutal attacks – with New York becoming the epicenter of racial attacks against Chinese/Asian Americans on the subways and on the streets. Just search here on AsAmNews, and you will find a number of links to racial attacks in the US against Chinese/Asian Americans due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It has become so serious that not only have our people been verbally harassed, but there are videos of Asians being beaten up on the New York subway, to the more serious crime of Asians being stabbed ( with the recent one happening in Brooklyn), and there is no signs that this is going to stop.

Having spoken to a number of Asian Australians, Asian Americans and Asians living, working and studying in Australia and the USA, many have told me about the fear they have walking out by themselves in public and catching public transport. Many have asked me to keep their names out of the public, so I will quote 2 of them under aliases.

“Judy” is a 2nd generation Chinese American who grew up in Queens, New York. She told me about an incident on the subway which happened to her, which almost made her cry.

” I was just sitting on the subway, on way home from work minding my own businesses. I choked on some water I was drinking and coughed. The people next to me automatically moved away from me ( well as far as they could as it was semi-crowded), and I heard someone yell out “coronavirus”. I felt so humiliated. This is the first time since I was a kid that I remember feeling this way”.

“Andy” is a medical professional who works in a hospital in Melbourne, Australia. As I stated above, in Australia, the racism has moved beyond public areas and into the hospitals and medical practices. He told me:

“I work in radiology in a Melbourne hospital, and a father who bought in his daughter saw that I was the radiographer taking his case, and he asked the reception if he could have a “non-Chinese”. Funny thing is I am Korean background, not Chinese, but I guess to many we are all the same.”

These are just 2 of many cases of casual racism coming out of this virus situation. As the virus infection rates fall in Asia and increase in Europe and the West, this type of racism against us as the Chinese/Asian diaspora is still happening. But as I said it is not just the verbal stuff, but like “Andy’s” situation it is also impacting on his work, and our people are being violently attacked. For now, we all must remain vigilant and prepared because this is not something which will just disappear. If you see it, call it out, don’t just ignore it even if it is not happening to you directly.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our  Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.

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