By Serena Chow, AsAmNews Intern
As reports of anti-Asian hate crimes continue to reach alarming rates, a new social media campaign #RacismIsAVirus is galvanizing people to speak out and resist widespread xenophobia amid COVID-19.
The #RacismIsAVirus campaign was organized by Diane Phelan, the founder of Broadway Diversity Project and New York based actress and director, who garnered a groundswell of support from colleagues such as Telly Leung (Aladdin, Allegiance, Rent), Ann Harada (Avenue Q, SMASH), Marc DelaCruz (Hamilton), and more. Since its launch, the campaign has reached over 600,000 users.
Inspired by images of other Asian Americans standing against rampant discrimination, Phelan had the idea to create a social media campaign that united people, especially during social distancing, as a way to connect one another in solidarity and resistance.
“The main drive of this campaign, from my gut, is I want to see people’s faces standing up–angry–showing that we are not going to be silent about these hate crimes anymore,” Phelan said in an interview with AsAmNews.
Phelan added that the campaign is not defined by the hashtag #RacismIsAVirus but instead by people who collectively rally around denouncing racist acts against their communities.
“What I am hoping for with this campaign is that it is specifically pictures flooding social media with a unifying sign, but it doesn’t matter which hashtag you use,” Phelan said. “If you stand up with your face and say something–fantastic–that’s enough. It has been incredibly empowering for me to see everyone standing with the message with the unifying line saying we are all in this together and we are not going to stand for this kind of treatment.”
More than 1,100 hate crimes have been reported against Asian Americans since the pandemic reached the United States. This estimate comes from hate incident reporting sites organized by three AAPI civil rights organizations: Stop AAPI Hate, OCA–Asian American Pacific Advocates and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Reflecting on the activism of #RacismIsAVirus, Phelan shared that she has observed how Asian people are often associated with stereotypes of being timid and hesitant to engage in high profile protest or dissent. Phelan sees this social media campaign as a powerful way to combat this kind of ignorance and empower Asian and Asian American communities.
Phelan further added that these issues have sparked greater reflection on navigating inequality in America and the importance of “partaking in larger conversations and having your voice be heard.”
In public briefings on COVID 19 and on Twitter, President Donald Trump has referred to the COVID 19 pandemic as the “Chinese virus”, which many denounce as reinforcing xenophobia and racism against Asian Americans.
John C. Yang, president and executive director of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAAJ, told NBC that he believes Trump’s rhetoric carry a direct impact.
“The deliberate use of terms like “Chinese virus” has definitely fanned the flames of racism toward Asian Americans in this country,” he said. “We have seen people associate the virus with Chinese people as they are assaulting them. It’s outrageous for any elected official to have been dismissive when the evidence of racist attacks continues to climb. Words matter and they often hold more weight when spoken by our politicians.”
Responding to these developments, Phelan commented that “America is never going to be at peace until all citizens are treated with dignity and equality.”
Sharing her final thoughts, Phelan added that the collective resistance of the #MeToo movement was a significant inspiration for her.
“[The Me Too movement] changed my life,” Phelan said. “Women getting together, sharing their stories, and supporting each other has produced a new world paradigm where women feel solidarity with each other. I walk down the street differently, I get on the subway differently, and I don’t yield when a White man comes at me in a suit.”
Phelan explained that the empowerment she has gained from speaking out and extending solidarity to other individuals is something she sincerely hopes for with the broader Asian and Asian American community.
“My dream for Asians and Asian Americans is that we feel strong together, we share our stories and have the world understand where we are coming from and assert that we will not be treated like second class citizens.”
#RacismIsAVirus campaign on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/racismisavirus/
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