Xenophobia in the Age of COVID-19

COVID-19 took its grasp on the world before anybody could predict how far it could spread. After a global economic shutdown, many countries have and are still experiencing financial devastation. The United States is no exception, as populous states such as New York and New Jersey have endured significant damage. This economic transformation directly had a hand in leading to a cultural transformation, and sadly, not in a good way.

Imagine 650 people in front of you, which is enough to fill at least two average-sized theater rooms. That is the number of Asians who have reported experiencing racism in a singular week in March, according to NBC News. This increase in racist encounters is due to the origin of COVID-19 as many Americans quickly resorted to blaming an entire race for the spread of this virus.

Racism Is A Virus': Bostonians Gather For Stop Asian Hate Rally | WBUR News
Activist William Lex Ham addresses a crowd during a rally against anti-Asian hate in Boston. (Credit: Quincy Walters/WBUR)

Although xenophobic acts are peaking at this point in time, racism against Asians is nothing new. It stems back to the 1800s when the federal government ratified the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to prohibit immigration from China. The second wave of immigration occurred only after Congress repealed the act in 1943. Despite this repeal, America maintained a firm grip on racism when the Supreme Court legalized Japanese internment camps in Korematsu v. United States (1944). 

More than a century after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Asians still face prejudice, especially during the era of COVID-19. Even though this virus affects everybody without discriminating against its choice of victims, many Americans choose to remain disdainful toward the Asian community for “starting” the pandemic. USA Today published an article depicting anecdotes from Asians who experienced racist comments and physical harassment about their race after the outbreak. In fact, my own mother faced judgment solely based on her origin recently.

It is important for minority groups in America to band together and support each other in treacherous times; however, this event proves how separated and divided everybody is. It is arguably more important for the federal government to discourage this behavior, but President Trump’s statements have only worsened the situation. In a YouTube video released by the Guardian News, Trump admits to calling coronavirus the ‘Chinese virus’ and defends his statement by claiming: “It’s not racist at all, no. Not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.” 

Examples of xenophobia: 

  • “Go back to your country”/ “Go back to where you came from”
  • “Speak English, this is America”
  • The Holocaust 
  • Treatment of Asians during COVID-19 pandemic
  • Murder of Black Families by the KKK
  • Human exhibits in Africa 
  • Treatment of Native Americans by Colonists

It is the job of the federal government to prevent any injury, harm, discrimination, and prejudice against a group of people based on race, gender, age, etc., but instead, America’s own president defended this racist classification. What is a person ought to do when nobody acknowledges their pleas for help in these dangerous times? What is a person ought to do when a foundational clause, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, created to prevent discrimination cannot protect them? What is a person ought to do when their own government fails to protect them and their personal liberties?

Sandra Oh Delivers Powerful Speech at Stop Asian Hate Rally: "I'm Proud to  Be Asian" | Elle Canada
Sandra Oh delivers her speech, “I’m Proud to be Asian,” at the Stop Asian Hate Rally. (Credit: @SANDRAOHONLINE)

How to prevent xenophobia in society:

  1. Get involved in other cultures/ learn about other cultures 
  2. Stand up for others and call out hate speech; Raise your voice!
  3. Teach kids when they are young to be kind. Remember racism is inculcated and taught; prevent that.
  4. Support human rights organizations
  5. Develop values of tolerance, cohesion, and compassion and promote them too. Don’t be among the xenophobics yourself. 
  6. Report hate crimes!

If this cycle continues, COVID-19 will no longer be the number one murderer of our age. Instead, racism and xenophobia will take their place. It will be a never-ending age of hate. 












Feature Image: Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group

Althea Ocomen

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