Kung flu, Chinese coronavirus, Chinese virus, and Wuhan virus. Those are just some of the derogatory nicknames people have applied to the COVID-19 virus. Even worse, this derision and bullying goes far beyond names for the virus.
People have physically and verbally attacked Asian people. The perpetrators thought that their victims had COVID-19, helped it spread, or came from places they associated with it. People have also insulted Asian countries. Such attacks during times of international crisis are not new, but there are ways to combat them.
What are some examples of attacks?
The COVID-19 outbreak is a global pandemic, which means it has ravaged several places and has the potential to travel to several more. But since COVID-19 was first identified in China, some people seem to have trouble separating the country (and the Asian continent) from the virus.
On March 18, 2020 U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly said that the virus “comes from China.” The next day, Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford shared a photograph that depicted Trump with notes in front of him. The notes included the words Corona Virus, but the word Corona was crossed out and replaced with the word Chinese, so the new phrase in his notes read Chinese Virus.
Such xenophobia isn’t confined to the U.S. president. Many people of Asian descent are reporting harassment and worse in light of the pandemic.
Government authorities quarantined four Japanese tourists in a Bolivian hospital in February 2020, even though none showed symptoms of illness. Earlier in the year, a woman on the Rio de Janeiro subway called a Japanese Brazilian student a “Chinese pig” who was “spreading diseases to everyone.”
Other Japanese people have suffered discrimination related to COVID-19. Japanese medical workers who dealt with an outbreak of the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were instructed not to bring their children to nursery schools, called germs, and experienced other forms of harassment and discrimination.
Have other instances of anti-Asian prejudice occurred?
Unfortunately, yes. Outbreaks of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), another viral condition with origins in Asia, uncovered prejudice in the early 2000s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “During the SARS outbreak, some persons became fearful or suspicious of all people who looked Asian, regardless of their nationality or actual risk factors for SARS, and expected them to be quarantined.”
Fears and suspicions have centered on much more than viruses, of course. The United States has a long history of prejudice and racism against people of Asian descent. This racism has even been codified into law. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act limited immigration and placed other restrictions on Chinese people and Chinese Americans. It began in 1882 and wasn’t repealed until 1943.
Of course, by 1943, another glaring instance of anti-Asian racism was occurring in the United States: the incarceration of people of Japanese descent. Fears circulated that Japanese-born people and people of Japanese ancestry could be disloyal to U.S. efforts relating to World War II. As a reaction, the U.S. federal government displaced some 120,000 U.S. residents in these populations and forced them to live in prison camps.
Imprisonment was far from the only the instance of anti-Japanese prejudice during that time. Japs and Nips were common insults for Japanese people and the derogatory labels appear in newspaper headlines of the 1940s.
Anti-Japanese prejudice even occurs in cartoons of the era. The 1944 animated short “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” portrayed the animated rabbit calling Japanese soldiers bow legs, monkey face, and slant eyes. The soldiers are not depicted as unique people but as racist stereotypes with large teeth, prominent glasses, and yellow skin.
How do we combat prejudice, bigotry, and racism?
One word: education. As G.I. Joe said, knowing is half the battle. It’s harder to fear people or hurt people if we know them. It’s even harder to fear them or hurt them if we like them.
There’s no excuse for ignorance-based prejudice in the age of the internet. A quick search on a phone or computer can introduce us to firsthand perspectives of people as well as accounts of different cultures and places.
Some of these people would be happy to share their thoughts and answer respectful questions. Websites, chat rooms, email, messenger services, social media sites, and other platforms help us reach out to people and better understand them.
If we’re reluctant to ask people about their cultures and other information, we can still learn about them. We can check out their sites to read what they say about themselves. For information about cultures and about public health matters such as COVID-19, we can consider studying the sites of institutions with good reputations, institutions such as colleges, universities, and government health agencies such as the CDC.
These reputable sites back their claims with scholarly research instead of hyperbole and second-hand and third-hand accounts. People contributing to these sites emphasise statistics and evidence-based investigation, not information they think is true because they saw it or read it somewhere. They promote verifiable facts, not unfounded beliefs.
Fear is not a pleasant emotion to experience, but it’s not an excuse for ignorance. It’s certainly not an excuse to verbally or physically attack others because of who they are or who they might be. Knowledge can protect us from viruses and from hate. Now more than ever, it’s our duty to educate ourselves and act on our knowledge.
About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor for Sunshine Behavioral Health substance abuse treatment. She is interested in human rights, health and wellness, gender issues, and several other topics.