I’ve been debating for a while whether or not to write this. In times of such extreme polarization, it seems like those who have already agreed with me will still agree and those who have not will not see it any other way. At the end of the day, nobody has changed their mind, so what is the point? Then I think to myself — this is the kind of mindset that results in dangerous inaction. So here I go, in the hope that this is not just me shouting into the void.
In the midst of this pandemic, COVID-19 is not the only contagion that is spreading. There’s one even more lethal: hate. Hate, which leads people to commit gut-wrenching, unspeakable acts.
Back in late January, when the United States was still living in a blissful calm before the storm, hate crimes against Chinese people across the globe started to pop up. Of course, hate crimes against the Chinese are nothing new — but this time, assailants attacked innocent people whom they blamed for the coronavirus. It became increasingly dangerous to even be Asian, because in truth, attackers could not or did not care to distinguish between ethnicities anyway.
When I read about these early accounts, I was horrified and also deeply troubled. It would only be a matter of time before that violence made its way to the United States. I resigned myself to the fact that sooner or later, hating Asian Americans would become the latest fad, potentially putting me and my family in danger.
Now it has finally happened. As the United States is battling coronavirus, it is the time, now more than ever, to stay unified. At the same time, disappointingly but not surprisingly in this difficult situation, the President himself is endorsing flagrant racism, referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus.” Others, such as Texas Sen. John Cornyn, ignorantly draw on racist stereotypes by blaming Chinese people for having a “culture where people eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that” and falsely claiming that “that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, MERS, the Swine flu.” News flash: MERS stands for “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome,” and Swine flu originated in the United States. Irresponsible statements such as these are frankly shameful for the nation, not to mention dangerous.
The repercussions of this repulsive xenophobia will only result in the loss of American lives and shattering of unity. Already in the United States we are seeing a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, from people being spat on to being physically assaulted. Trump is diverting the public gaze away from his own inaction and shifting the heat onto Asian Americans, causing us to suffer for his mistakes. If anyone is to blame for this situation, it would be Trump — for wasting precious time all in pursuit of making himself look better.
If you think the Orange Bubble shelters you from this, think again. Times of crisis tend to force people to reveal their true colors, and Princeton is no exception. This week on Tiger Confessions++, an anonymous Facebook group run by students, posts which took the spotlight included “100% china’s fault, f*** you china” and “i absolutely blame china and mainland chinese people for the coronavirus.” I understand that people are panicked. I understand that people’s entire lives have been upended because so has mine. But that in no way justifies the mindless anger and insults which dehumanize innocent Chinese civilians, who themselves have suffered tremendously. Put your primal rage to a halt for one second and ask yourself — will this racist vitriol change anything?
In fact, this rhetoric makes things worse. It builds upon age-old Asian-American caricatures. It reinforces the myth that Asians are somehow dirty and barbaric for eating foods outside the standard Western palate, and that they are somehow less human as a result.
At the end of all this, I’m not asking you to care because I think it is “politically correct.” I’m asking you to care because this is setting the trajectory for the United States, and at this rate, it isn’t looking good. American citizens will get hurt in this fruitless fight where people lash out from panic. No one wins from this game. Even when this whole pandemic ends, I guarantee that these anti-Asian sentiments will linger, finding their way onto playgrounds and into classrooms in the form of bullying — whether via verbal abuse or physical attack — and deeply setting the tone for the next generation.
Siyang Liu is a junior from Princeton, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.