Racism and hate crimes, unfortunately, have become a normal part of Asian and black communities. A 2015 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that the number of hate crimes has remained fairly constant over the past decades, hovering between 200,000 and 300,000 annually. Another study in 2017 showed that the percentage of Asian and Pacific Islander victims of robbery between 2008 and 2016 rose from 11.6% to 14.2%; felonious assault from 5.2% to 6.6%; and grand larceny from 10.3% to 13.5%.
According to the Washington Post, a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C., Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who looked at the economic determinants of hate crime, concluded that "rather than economic conditions, the hate crimes literature points to a breakdown in law enforcement and official sanctioning and encouragement of civil disobedience as significant causes of the occurrence of hate crimes."
Unfortunately, the lives of Asian people are more in danger now due to the COVID-19 outbreak, where millions of people across the globe blame them for the virus. The first transmission of the new strain of coronavirus, which likely originated in bats or pangolins, to humans was in Wuhan, China. Since then, the virus has mostly spread through person-to-person contact. The virus spread so rapidly in many parts of the world, the WHO declared it a pandemic.
Thousands of people have been infected and have died since the virus spread worldwide. This has forced many countries and cities to impose a total lockdown and observe self-quarantine among their citizens. Hospitals, particularly in the most affected nations, are jampacked and can’t accommodate more patients. The sudden outbreak and the frustrations of many people have caused them to target Asian communities, particularly the Chinese.
Hate Crimes Against Asians
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, several accounts of racism and xenophobia have been reported and documented on social media. For instance, Jonathan Mok, a 23-year-old from Singapore, detailed how he was attacked while walking down London’s busy Oxford Street. According to Mok, he was kicked and punched in the face, which bruised his eye. The attack, which he described in his post, was brutal and racially motivated.
“The guy who tried to kick me then said, ‘I don’t want your coronavirus in my country’, before swinging another sucker punch at me, which resulted in my face exploding with blood,” he wrote on a social media post.
This isn’t an isolated case. According to New Yorker, an American weekly magazine featuring journalism, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons, and poetry, a man sprayed an Asian passenger with Febreze and verbally abused him on a subway in New York City. An Nguyen, a Vietnamese curator, was prevented from coming to an exhibit at London’s Affordable Art Fair. He was emailed the message: “The coronavirus is causing much anxiety everywhere, and fairly or not, Asians are being seen as carriers of the virus. Your presence on the stand would, unfortunately, create hesitation on the part of the audience to enter the exhibition space.”
The cases of Mok and Nguyen show that discrimination is not only targeting Chinese people but also people of east and southeast Asian descent more broadly. Experts have acknowledged the fact that rampant ignorance and misinformation about the pandemic has led to racist and xenophobic attacks. “I don’t think most of the people who tend to harbor these kinds of hatred or prejudices are interested in the specifics of your ethnic or racial background. Because of your racial phenotype, you’re automatically deemed to be foreign,” Miri Song, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, said.
According to Time, an American weekly news magazine and news website, some governments and politicians across the world have already denounced such incidents related to the outbreak. However, some still resort to racist and xenophobic attacks or comments, including US President Donald Trump. Recently, he started using a racist designation: the “Chinese virus” instead of referring to the COVID-19 by its common name. He has also been vocal about using this new preferred racist name on his Twitter account. Other variations among administration officials and Republicans in Congress include “the Chinese flu,” “the Chinese coronavirus” or “the Wuhan coronavirus.”
Mike Ainsworth, the director of London services at Stop Hate U.K., an anti-hate group, stated that they have seen a spike in hate crimes and incidents reported by Asian communities and individuals in the UK. Even in the online world, many people have been creating and sharing racist memes and posts directed toward Asian communities in reaction to the outbreak. For instance, they mocked references to “bat soup,” depicted an Asian “Winnie the Flu,” and other more violent imagery.
“There has been, for our helpline, a significant increase in calls from the Chinese community. The incidents range from name-calling, through to spitting, through to someone having been pushed in the road in the path of oncoming vehicles,” Ainsworth said.
Racist Attacks Might Affect Efforts to Stop the Spread of COVID-19
The anti-Chinese and anti-Asian rhetoric has not only resulted in discrimination and harassment but also affected business in Asian communities. For instance, in New York City, home to one of the largest Chinese communities outside of China, business owners have experienced an "unprecedented" decline. Recent reports also showed a 30% to 70% drop in sales since February, around the time the first COVID-19 death was reported in the US.
While we think that these racial slurs and comments will only impact the Asian community, experts believe that this might hinder our efforts to contain the virus. Natalia Molina, whose research includes the intersection of disease and race, stated that these kinds of attacks are not only racist but also perpetuate unfounded information. "The idea that this disease is mapped onto certain countries and not others is one key way in which we are going to hinder our ways of containing this disease," Molina said.
According to ABC News, a trusted source for breaking news and analyses, people have now been focusing on preventing or getting away from Asian people instead of following proper sanitation to protect them from acquiring the virus. Experts have seen many resorting to believing racial stereotypes instead of believing in scientific information, with which we could have a better understanding of this disease today.