As the coronavirus situation grows more severe, my sister and I send multiple text messages to our 75-year-old father. The text messages implore him to stay at home and let us shop for him. Texting is easier than phone calls. Our father is hard of hearing.
My father, my sister and I are Korean Americans. When my sister and I text our father, our worry is not just the coronavirus. We also worry about people and physical violence.
Donald Trump has publicly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”
A photograph by a Washington Post photographer showed Trump reading from notes at a press conference on March 19, where the word "corona" was crossed out and replaced with "Chinese.” Trump has defended his use of the term saying, “It’s not racist at all. It comes from China, that’s why.”
According to an article published by The New York Times on March 23, Asian American advocacy groups and researchers say there has been a surge of verbal and physical assaults reported by Asian Americans in newspapers and to tip lines.
Increases in racist and xenophobic incidents were not caused by Trump alone. There are other politicians and people with public platforms who have publicly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus.” This includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In my experience, though, there are also ordinary people in America who do not need any prompting by public figures to be racist and xenophobic.
However, when the president of the United States of America intentionally uses words that racialize the coronavirus, it surely does not help.
Some may ask, “Why are you writing this as a Korean American?” Well, I am a human being, and I believe that racism and xenophobia are wrong. In my and my family’s experiences, racists and xenophobes are those people who are okay with harming groups of people who can be delineated and treated as “others” or “associated with others.” Some racists and xenophobes actively cause harm to individuals from “other-ized” groups, these groups often being people of color in the United States. Others actively or passively approve the harm. All of this is wrong.
My brother, a veteran, operates an auto body shop. A couple weeks ago, he had a new customer walk in whose face and words registered disgust and anger upon seeing my brother’s Asian American face. About a week ago, my Irish American brother-in-law was at the grocery store with my father, when a woman standing in the checkout line started verbally harassing them for no apparent reason. Thank goodness my hard-of-hearing and elderly Asian American father was with my white brother-in-law.
Nowadays, before going to the grocery store, I put on my cloth mask and latex gloves and fill my pockets with Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. My husband urges me to carry mace. I tell him that I don’t have enough room in my pockets.
Instead of mace, I put on my American flag hat. I have mixed feelings about this. The American Flag Code frowns on commercialized use of the flag, such as on clothing.
However, I put on my American flag hat because it is my act of patriotism, protest and resistance. With this action, I say, racists and xenophobes, America does not belong to you. America belongs to those who “pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Sandy Chung is the Vice President for Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator at the University of Portland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.