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Panel addresses virus racism

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-08-07 10:58
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Prominent Asian Americans say COVID-19-related atttacks have risen at an alarming rate

A group of prominent Asian Americans say prejudice, racism and physical attacks against their community have increased at alarming rates over wrongful claims that Chinese people are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Whenever there is a contentious relationship with any part of Asia from the United States, the racism inside the United States goes up against Asians. We are at such a moment, in my belief," said Jerry Yang, co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo.

Yang made his remarks at a virtual event organized by the National Committee on United States-China Relations on Wednesday. He was joined by three other speakers: Anla Cheng, founder and CEO of SupChina; Erika Lee, a professor of American history and director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota; and Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America.

At the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the US, between March and June, there were 2,100 anti-Asian American hate crimes related to COVID-19, according to Chinese advocacy groups. Some assaults were verbal, while at least 10 percent were physical.

In New York, an 89-year-old Chinese American woman was set on fire by two men in Brooklyn. The elderly woman, who spoke Cantonese, had just left her home in Bensonhurst on July 14 when the men slapped her in the face and set her clothes on fire. She was able to rub her back against a wall to put out the flames but still suffered burns.

Said Maasbach: "The pain I felt for that 89-year-old woman … I am angry. But we need to use and channel that anger into better educating others. We need to own our identity the way we should."

In another hate crime, a 16-year old Asian American boy was attacked at school in California's San Fernando Valley after being accused of having the coronavirus. He suffered a concussion and was rushed to the hospital.

Said Lee: "What's happening (to Asians) today, of course, has long historical roots. It is certainly, as Jerry mentioned, in relationship to what is happening on a global scale in terms of the rising tension between the US and China, but also the pandemic has revived long-standing racist anti-immigration narratives.

"It's part of the United States' long history of xenophobia and the irrational fear and hatred of immigrants, and, in particular, disease epidemics have always played a really important role in shaping racism in leading to hate crimes."

New York has seen several hate crimes against Chinese, prompting Attorney General Letitia James to launch a hotline where victims can report coronavirus-related incidents. California Governor Gavin Newsom also said he had seen a "huge increase" in assaults against Asian Americans in his state.

In a bid to document the crimes, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council launched a website called Stop AAPI Hate where people can report assaults.

"I want to point out how prevalent assaults are (against Chinese) in the New York area," said Cheng. "It even happened to my assistant, who is Malaysian Chinese, and her partner, who were both thrown to the ground.

"Her revenge was that she got to be on the front page of the New York Post, and they did catch the assailant two months later. Another thing that I was shocked to see was that in Rockville, Maryland, most gun buyers in March were Chinese Americans — this is how afraid Americans are."

President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly been criticized for branding the coronavirus "the Chinese virus".

As of Thursday, the US had 4.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 159,000 deaths, according to data from John Hopkins University.

All of the panelists agreed that it was important for Asians to support each other and other ethnic groups facing racial abuse, particularly in the wake of nationwide protests over the May 25 death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, who died when one of the four Minneapolis police officers at the scene knelt on his neck.

Yang added: "When you are afraid to walk out of your house or to go somewhere because you are Asian — and by the way this is what African Americans have felt for generations — then … we need solidarity. This could be Asian Americans' wake-up call to build solidarity around race. … There may need to be a shift."

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