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Fighting racism in a pandemic

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-07-22 13:21
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People wearing a protective mask walk near of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) shortly in New York City, on March 16, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

With federal efforts lacking, Asian Americans are starting social media campaigns to combat the rise in racism they have faced during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a video released Tuesday on several social media platforms, a group of Asian people in face masks detailed the discrimination, harassment and racism they have experienced during the pandemic — such as being told to "go back to China" or having people cough at them or spit in their direction.

Pulling off their masks, they reveal their occupations as firefighter, nurse, doctor, deliverywoman, bus driver and other roles considered essential during the pandemic. The minute-long video ends with each of them calling to Fight the Virus. Fight the Bias — the title of the video.

Produced by the Advertising Council, a nonprofit organization that makes public service announcements, and Emmy Award-winning writer Alan Yang, the video is aimed at building a sense of humanity and breaking the silence around the hatred impacting the Asian American community.

"Amid this pandemic and the stresses associated, nobody should have to also endure the added layer of fear that comes from this surge in racial violence and harassment," said Advertising Council President and CEO Lisa Sherman in a press release. She said the video is expected to inspire Americans to rethink their biases and help end the wave of racism facing Asian Americans.

Reports by many civil rights organizations show that Asian communities across the US have endured increasing harassment and assaults since the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.

The Anti-Defamation League has recently compiled a long list of coronavirus-related anti-Asian incidents from January to June, including people being physically assaulted, properties vandalized, and an online meeting disrupted by anti-Asian slurs in the chat function.

Stop AAPI Hate, a coronavirus-related racism-reporting platform, recorded more than 2,000 incidents across the country in three months.

Statements by President Donald Trump and his allies referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus" or the "kung flu" have fueled xenophobia and bigotry toward people of Chinese descent and other Asian Americans, said Russell Jeung, chair and professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.

"President Trump's insistent use of the term 'Chinese virus' creates an implicit association that the virus is Chinese, and that Chinese people have the virus," Jeung told China Daily.

Subsequently, others have blamed Chinese and Asians in the US for being the source of the disease and for bringing it to the US, said Jeung, who compiled the Stop AAPI Hate data. He noted that when Trump began using the terms, bias incidents against Asian Americans jumped.

"It's clear that President Trump is scapegoating China for the pandemic. He does so to deflect responsibility for his poor handling of this public health crisis and more recently to avoid dealing with Black Lives Matter and America's racial injustices," said Jeung. "By blaming China, he seeks to create an outside enemy that his political base could be angry with."

A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 4 in 10 US adults say it has become more common for people to express racist views toward Asians since the pandemic began.

About a quarter of the Asian American respondents say they feared someone might threaten or physically attack them, a higher percentage than for any other group.

The Trump administration has been criticized for doing little about the rise in anti-Asian hate amid the pandemic, in comparison to actions taken in similar situations such as the SARS outbreak and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

For instance, after the 9/11 attacks, former President George W. Bush, a Republican, and the attorney general and FBI director immediately issued statements that hate crimes and discrimination against Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian Americans would not be tolerated, and the Justice Department officials had attended more than 100 meetings and events with leaders from those communities, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

"When the coronavirus pandemic hit the US, President Trump failed to protect the Asian Americans. He uses China as the scapegoat and incites racial hysteria by using slurs such as 'Chinese virus' and 'kung flu,'" said Julie Tang, retired judge of San Francisco Superior Court and a civil rights activist. "The Chinese Americans felt the sting of the demonizing of China in the press and by the administration."

Tang has joined the grassroots efforts to raise the awareness of pandemic-related harassment by launching a campaign using a Facebook profile picture filter. The campaign calls on people to wear a virtual mask on their Facebook page that says, "Fight the Virus, not Asians".

Americans should also be aware that the Chinese community has been a role model in fighting the pandemic, said California state Senator Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco, during an online news conference Tuesday.

"The Chinese community is setting a very strong example of everyone wearing masks and wearing them correctly ... being responsible and being safe and being respectful towards the community," said Wiener.

"Chinatown is the densest neighborhood west of the Mississippi, and it's had very few infections," he said. "That's not just random. That's because the Chinese community has stepped up and shown leadership and modeled good behavior for the rest of the community, and I'm very grateful for that," he said.

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