BY GOWRI ABHINANDA
Web Features Editor
Chinese-Americans are under fire, and quite literally, as seen on July 14 when an 89-year-old Chinese-American woman was slapped in the face and set on fire by two men she had never met before while she was going on a walk, according to ABC NY. This was not an isolated incident. A Chinese-American family was stabbed after being blamed for the coronavirus, as reported by Dallas News. How did society shift into one that is willing to set Chinese-Americans, people, on fire? The answer lies in a unique fear that has been integrated within American culture – xenophobia.
Xenophobia is fear of foreigners, and in this case, the targeted group is Chinese-Americans. Xenophobia takes an instance of fear and generalizes it onto a whole population, thus putting these groups under attack. According to Humanity in Action, this fear of foreigners is the same dialogue many Americans held towards the Muslims after the Twin Tower attacks on Sep. 11. Although terrorists committed the act, they generalized their fear, and many Americans blamed Muslims. Following this shift to a xenophobic lens, Muslims were beaten on the streets, threatened, or killed. This unjust treatment is still being extended today towards Chinese-Americans due to the presence of COVID-19.
In 2015, The World Health Organization (WHO) created guidelines for naming new diseases. They stressed when referring to a disease that references cultures, certain populations, or countries should be avoided to prevent xenophobic rhetoric. Additionally, although COVID-19 originated from a bat-borne virus, the connection to how it even came into contact with civilians of Wuhan, China, is unclear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite these guidelines and information, many Americans are blaming an entire ethnic group by labeling the coronavirus as the “Kung flu” and “China virus.” Even members of the previous presidential administration also engaged in discriminatory speech. A notable incident transpired, which highlighted the rising xenophobia, when Weijia Jiang, a Chinese-American reporter, inquired regarding America’s response to the pandemic and was told she should “ask China that question.” These comments were said at a press conference that was televised for the whole nation to see, and this encouraged more xenophobic rhetoric to arise, further exemplified when a rally took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where “Kung flu” was used as a chant, a racial slur towards the Chinese-American people.
Following these xenophobic outcries, hate crimes started rising against Chinese-Americans, as seen by reports being compiled by the Stop-AAPI-Hate website, which received over 1,000 reports of hate crimes ranging from verbal and physical abuse, denial of work, and denial of basic services such as healthcare.
These acts against the Chinese-American community ARE unacceptable and could be prevented if agencies like the FBI, which is in charge of acting on hate crimes, acted. The FBI has the power to create some positive change to help change this culture of fear. Yet, they haven’t made a statement nor taken any actions to help assuage the pain that has been inflicted upon the Chinese-American community. That’s why, now more than ever, people need to take action by raising awareness on social media, protesting, and educating people about the harms of xenophobia to change this hateful culture towards Chinese-Americans.