Since the Coronavirus epidemic hit the United States, Asians and Asian-Americans have seen a rise in hate crimes, from hearing hateful words to seeing people throw things at them.
And unfortunately, I’m one of the Asian-Americans who’s experienced racism during this pandemic.
I was born in Daejeon City, South Korea and immigrated to America when I was just one year old. So while some might say that I’m as American as you can get, many people still see me as Asian first. Because of my background and the way people see me, I’m at higher risk of experiencing racism right now, and it frightens me more then you know. After the Coronavirus spread to the United States, I began to see people make strange faces at me when I left the house. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, and I certainly didn’t think that my race played a role in their reactions.
A couple of weeks ago, I rang up a middle-aged Caucasian woman and happened to fix the mask I wore. She was also wearing a mask, so I couldn’t hear her well, but I did hear enough to pick up on her shock and anger. The woman proclaimed, “Wow, you’re wearing a mask? You brought this virus over here so why do you even need one?” Then, a gentleman joined in and said, “There is a national shortage of masks, and you Asians are taking them all. We need to save them for the real Americans, not the traders who brought the Coronavirus to America.”
This interaction dumbfounded me so much that I didn’t say anything. I finished the man’s transaction, but when I tried to give him his receipt, he said, “I don’t want it because you touched it. You should be ashamed of your people.”
At that moment, I wished that I was anything but Korean.
For the first time in my life, I wished that I blended in like the blonde, blue-eyed girls who I see every day. Other customers apologized for his behavior, but it was too little too late.
When I got home, I looked up Asian racism amid COVID-19 because I was the only person in my life who had experienced it, and I felt so alone. But then, I came across a video by Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz, an internal medicine physician from Southern California, and it opened my eyes to the racist statements that people have directed at Asians of all different backgrounds during the Coronavirus.
The truth is that the xenophobia that the video shows is nothing new.
In the 1800s, Xenophobia prevented Asian-born immigrants from entering and exiting the United States, and the racism that Asians face in 2020 is just an extension of the xenophobic tensions that have been brewing for a long time. I learned the hard way that xenophobia is alive and well in the United States, but it’s up to all of us to strike it down.
I understand that COVID-19 has created an intense fear in the American people.
This fear is woven in the hearts of every American regardless of ethnicity. But while I can’t speak for every Asian-American, please know that I am just as afraid of the virus as you are. Therefore, hate towards Asian people shouldn’t be spreading even more quickly than the Coronavirus. Hate speech and racist remarks won’t change the facts of our current situation in America, so we need to think before we speak and act.
Most of us believe that we aren’t racist, but now, it’s even more important to examine our internalized racism. Are you afraid to go into an Asian cashier’s checkout line right now? Are you delaying doing your dry cleaning because the company’s owners are Asian? Have you caught yourself using racist nicknames for the Coronavirus? If you’ve done any of these things, there’s still time to change. Recognize that people of Asian descent aren’t to blame for the virus. Stand up against those who commit hate crimes against Asians. And most importantly, ask yourself this valuable question: Am I treating others the way I would want to be treated?