As the number of coronavirus cases continues to skyrocket around the globe, so, too, are acts of racism and discrimination against Asian American people who increasingly are being blamed for a virus they had nothing to do with.
And coronavirus-related discrimination may have a disproportionate impact on Asian women, who are three times more likely to report instances of racist harassment related to the coronavirus than Asian men, according to a report released last Thursday by the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (AP3CON) and Chinese for Affirmative Action.
In just over a week, March 19-27, the organizations received more than 750 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination through their reporting center Stop AAPI Hate, which was launched to document hate incidents against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Nearly 100 reports have been submitted each day and range from verbal attacks, such as racial slurs and name-calling, to physical assault to being barred from an establishment, according to the report that was conducted by Russell Jeung, chair and professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.
About half of the reported incidents happened at a business, but a good portion occurred at parks, on public transit, on the internet or in the streets. The report includes anonymous, detailed anecdotes in which participants describe what happened during the encounters.
Several reasons may explain why Asian women are reporting three times more hate incidents than men — for example, it’s possible that Asian men are more likely to stay quiet about such incidents. But Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, told HuffPost the significant disparity could stem from women being generally more likely to experience a lot of harassment.
“There’s reasons for that. One is the sense that perhaps women are not going to fight back, are more vulnerable, less likely to respond, and so when people feel like they have a license to [harass them], they’re gonna go after people who may appear to be vulnerable even though that’s not the case,” Choi said, adding that hate incidents, in general, are underreported.
But what’s particularly troubling about the report is that in many incidents, perpetrators use the coronavirus to further enable harassment and misogyny against women.
In one incident, which Choi termed “really disturbing,” a woman described being objectified, and when she stood up for herself and called the perpetrator out, the perpetrator “turned hostile and made reference to her having the coronavirus and being diseased as a way to shut her down,” Choi said. “I think that is something that’s certainly troubling. I feel like the coronavirus is being weaponized.”
Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of AP3CON, agreed that a pattern seems to exist in which the virus is often the connector between race and gender-based discrimination.
For example, one woman described walking outside with a friend when someone passed by them and said, “Put on a mask, you Asian bitch,” Kulkarni told HuffPost.
Another woman, Kulkarni said, wrote of being “on the same block as where I live, which is in downtown Los Angeles, when I was crossing the street and crossing paths with three young men. They noticed me and started making suggestive comments and catcalling. One of them said, ‘Do you want to give me the coronavirus?’”
In the age of the coronavirus, many Asian Americans have had to make tradeoffs: Either they stay home and forgo access to basic necessities like food, prescription refills and supplies, or they venture outside and face the prospect of becoming the next target of racism-fueled harassment or even violence.
“This appears to be especially true for AAPI women who, because of our gender, are painfully aware every minute even under normal circumstances, we could be subjected to sexual harassment, physical intimidation, or assault,” Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said in a statement to HuffPost.
The chances may be even higher if Asians wear face masks, which are also indirectly tied to ableism and sociocultural differences. And essential workers have no other choice but to walk in the line of fire or risk losing their jobs.
Another factor that could potentially make Asian women more vulnerable to coronavirus-related racism, particularly street harassment, is the nature of the errands that women are typically expected to do, such as grocery shopping.
“While I think it’s really changed in the last 10 to 20 years, it continues to be true that women do a disproportionate share of caregiving, undertaking family responsibilities or obligations, which puts them outside the home,” Kulkarni said. “So that may be another explanation.”
Much of the coronavirus-infused language spouted by everyday harassers echoes the same racist phrases that President Donald Trump and other elected officials have repeatedly used to refer to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, including the “Chinese virus,” the “Wuhan virus” and “Kung-Flu.”
“This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the ‘Kung-Flu’ to my face,” Weijia Jiang, a White House correspondent for CBS, tweeted on March 17. “Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.”
That same day, I woke up to dozens of trolls calling me names and sending me xenophobic tweets, all because I had called Trump’s tweet calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” racist. Several people accused me of spreading Chinese communist propaganda, while others told me to “stop eating bats,” “disgusting gutter oil shit” and “weird stuff.”
This type of racist rhetoric goes directly against the World Health Organization’s guidance to use generic terms to refer to diseases, rather than calling them by the regions where they originated. It also pins the blame on the AAPI community “for the administration’s failure and the thousands of lives needlessly lost because officials were busy being careless and racist instead of preparing our nation for a pandemic,” Choimorrow said.
“Let me be clear: We are not to blame,” she said. “The virus does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or national origin and our government officials must stop using racist language and publicly denounce hate crimes against us.”
On March 23, Trump tweeted that the Asian American community should be protected from prejudice, though he failed to acknowledge his part in fueling that bias. Shortly after, he told Fox News that he would finally stop using the term “Chinese virus” to describe COVID-19 — but the damage had been done.
As of Monday, Choi said the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center has collected close to 1,000 incident reports. The center plans to break down the data by type of businesses where incidents took place — for example, grocery stores — and specific types of harassment, such as being coughed on and shunning, both of which are becoming increasingly common.
“One of the things the reporting center does is help visualize the issue while protecting anonymity, and it paints a national picture,” Choi said. “These are not anomalies. These are occurring at disturbing rates.”
“It reminds people that you’re not the only one, and by them sharing this very personal, humiliating, demoralizing story, they get to be part of something greater,” Choi added. “I think that’s why people are going out of their way to retell a very horrific story.”
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