Anti-Asian Racism & Xenophobia in the Pandemic
Jane Goodall once said, “Being evil is only something that only humans are capable of.”
Humans can sometimes be described as horrid, terrible monsters, selfish beings, or animals with no conscience or moral compass to point us in the right direction. At our worst, we are truly vultures, set on tearing, crushing, and defacing anything that contrasts our appalling beliefs. And in that, lays the foundation of racism.
Racism - or xenophobia, the fear of those unlike us - is the belief that some individuals, solely based on race and ethnicity, are superior to other human beings with a different race or ethnicity. The belief that individuals act a certain way based solely on their physical appearance is something that has been around for centuries, but is often exacerbated during challenging times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown.
The first known case of COVID-19 was found in Wuhan, China, sparking an international pandemic and issuing a worldwide lockdown. Since then, racism against individuals of Asian descent has increased exponentially.
Such incidents have happened all around the world. In the US alone, 3795 reports of racism against Asians have been reported to STOP AAPI (Anti Asian & Pacific Islander) HATE by all gender and age (2020-2021 National Report, 2021). At least a hundred twenty-five of these incidents were those of physical attacks, from throwing drinks to attacking an Asian American with a club for no apparent reason. Businesses were the site of thirty-eight percent of the incidents, followed by public streets at twenty percent, and public parks at eleven percent. Women reported discrimination more than twice as often as men, and fourteen percent of those reporting were under the age of twenty.
A recent Angus Reid poll in Canada found that seventy one percent of Asian respondents have said that racism and discrimination have gotten worse over the past year, while fifty five percent of non-Asian respondents have agreed that the discrimination has gotten worse.
This incidence of hate crimes and discrimination against Asians is happening all around the world, as Stop Hate UK, an anti-racist group in the UK reported that it had received increasing calls of “racism, discrimination, and verbal abuse, arising from perceptions that they are members of the Chinese community” (Human Right Watch, 2020).
These types of racist acts have happened throughout history but have been ignored or “taken lightly” when reported. The reports have only been taken seriously when the discrimination was highlighted in the March, 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, where a man took the lives of six women of Asian descent.
As an Asian myself, I have seen first hand the racism that COVID-19 has exacerbated. My mother was the target of such discrimination, from having her purse was stolen, receiving dirty looks and hearing comments such as “Go back to your own country”, “We don’t want your virus”, and “Why are you here?”
The experiences of myself and family are among the thousands of incidents happening across the country, where thousands of incidents were tallied, involving physical attacks, spitting, or coughing on Asian Canadians.
In Ottawa, police services have seen a massive increase in racially motivated hate crimes, and a six hundred percent increase in incidents against people of Asian descent.
Unfortunately, across Canada and around the world, a handful of political leaders have made racist comments, in particular with regards to COVID-19. Because of their public positions their words may send the message that it’s okay to discriminate against those of Asian descent, which is not true at all. Brazil’s education minister has stated that the pandemic was all but a ruse for China’s “world domination”, and the governor of the Veneto region in Italy spoke about how people have all “seen the Chinese eating mice alive.”
Of course, former US President Donald Trump tweeting phrases like “Chinese virus” or “Kungflu,” contributed to the backlash towards the Asian community as well. Closer to home, councillors and municipal officials in towns around Ontario have received pushback for racist tweets and statements about racism in their communities.
The racism and xenophobia against people of Asian descent is something that cannot be ignored, especially with such progress to end the pandemic. Racism may never truly fade away, as children learn from terrible influences that will shape their entire lives and their moral compass. However, there are things that can counteract this belief of a human hierarchy solely based on ethnicity.
First, we need to acknowledge that racism exists, and need to see it in all its forms. People need to realize that anti-racism doesn’t just mean not being racist, but also fighting racism, committing to being anti-racist. Bringing awareness to these acts would help significantly, as well as confronting those who have done racist acts. Citizens and groups locally and across the country have been calling for official plans and action to address systemic racism, and anti-Asian racism in particular. With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic on the horizon and people starting to go out and interact more, there’s more opportunity for racist actions, but also more opportunity for regular people to step in and say “that’s not okay” when they see things like that happening.
At the start of this article, I said that people could be described as animals, fearful of those who are different, but we can also be kind, forgiving, compassionate, and even hopeful; and in that lays the foundation of the term humanity.