The Contagion of Hate

“I was walking through the subway a couple weeks ago and a gentleman came up to me and just started yelling racial slurs, most of them directed toward my Chinese ethnicity.”

This statement made by Dr. Chen Fu, a hospitalist at NYU Langone Medical Center, exemplifies the bigotry experienced by members of Asian communities who are now being taunted for their identities. Unfortunately, one of the immediate consequences of the current COVID-19 health crisis aside from a growing number of reported cases is fear manifesting as anti-Asian discrimination. Many individuals have adopted an “us vs. them” mentality, targeting members of Asian communities amidst the widening pandemic due to its association with China. It is becoming clear that during this time we are facing a “virus” of another kind in the form of blatant racism against Asian individuals, with people like Dr. Fu becoming victims.

Racist attitudes towards individuals of Asian descent have existed long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the uncertainty of our situation has only made people feel more comfortable about expressing such views. The current wave of xenophobia we’re now seeing is built on deeply rooted racism directed towards Asian Americans, and past health crises are evident of this. As illnesses like the bubonic plague and smallpox spread in the late 1800s, the Chinese population of San Francisco was repeatedly used as a scapegoat. When the city grappled with a smallpox outbreak between 1875 and 1876, officials blamed the living conditions of Chinatown for fueling it. Similarly, when the city began reporting cases of the bubonic plague in 1900, San Francisco attempted to quarantine roughly 14,000 Chinese Americans residing in that area of the city. In both cases, the vitriol toward Chinese Americans was driven by explicit racism and the notion that Asian Americans were to be associated with being dirty or illness-ridden.

Due to the origins of coronavirus, such racist sentiments against Asian individuals have resurfaced and are as potent as ever. The COVID-19 pandemic only further shines a light on the othering of Asian Americans as seen throughout history. Around the world, we are all grappling with the spread of a deadly disease and dealing with a heightened sense of anxiety. However, it is also important that we overcome our biases and flatten the curve for racism and xenophobia in the face of a pandemic. Unlike coronavirus, which does not discriminate, our prejudices do once they remain unchecked. Our podcast examines the topic of coronavirus-related xenophobia deeply and how this societal issue is impacting our country currently.