Pandemic Fuels Racist Attacks

By Nicollette Samuels

Several teens approached a woman of Asian descent May 4 while she waited at a metro stop in St. Paul, Minnesota. “You won’t,” one teen can be heard repeating to his friend as he prepares to record the violent act for Instagram. He continues to egg his friend on by swearing on someone’s grave, encouraging the other to kick the Asian woman. As she stands in the corner of the bus shelter, the teen jumps in the air and gives her a swift kick in the face.

In Guangzhou, China, a sign on the doors of a McDonald’s restaurant prohibits the entry of black people, telling them to “notify local police for medical isolation.” The sign prompts the chain to apologize for suggesting that Africans were responsible for spreading COVID-19.

There has been a global uptick in racism and xenophobia as rumors and coronavirus fears cause some to seek out someone to blame for the pandemic. In the U.S., Asian Americans have come under fire, according to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), a coalition of community-based organizations that advocates for the rights of the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) communities. A3PCON says it had received over 1700 reports of verbal harassment, shunning and physical assaults from 45 states since it launched its Stop AAPI Hate center March 19, 2020.

The AAPI details a few reports in a May 13 release:

“I was walking my dog at night and a car swerved toward me on the sidewalk, two guys started shouting, ‘Trump 2020, Die Chink Die!'”

“White man in his 50s, approximately 6 feet tall, dragged an elderly Asian man out of the store by the arm and proceeded to shove him outside the store, causing the elderly man to fall on his head and back. Victim was a 92-year old Asian man.”

The Anti-Defamation League also has compiled a list of hate crimes attributed to the advent of COVID-19. These acts range from a video of an elderly Asian woman being chased with a bottle of Purell and a man yelling, “Come here! You need some hand sanitizer. Sanitize your ass!” in Miami, Florida, to an Asian man being attacked on the subway in Manhattan by a stranger who shouted at him, “You’re infected China boy, you need to get off the train.” The aggressor then grabbed the victim and attempted to pull him out of his seat.

President Trump’s referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” has been used as ammunition by some who are targeting the Asian community. These assaults have left Asians fearful and hypersensitive about their surroundings. “Uhhhh am I going to be okay going to New York next week or is coughing while Asian going to be jeopardize my personal safety/security,” said Twitter user Elise Hu, founder of NPR’s Seoul Bureau. Shyuan Ngo, a motor neuron disease research scientist at the University of Queensland,  tweeted, “A part of me was immediately concerned that I would be stared down as the Asian with coronavirus. Once you have been on the receiving end, fear of racism really sticks with you.”

While there has been a rise in xenophobia and racism in the United States against the Chinese and other Asians, in China Africans and Blacks have been targeted. Currently China has somewhat contained the coronavirus and is slowly returning to business as usual by ceasing the lockdown and opening a few schools and factories across the country. During the initial outbreak China reported more than 82,000 coronavirus cases and at least 4,633 deaths, according to data from the country’s National Health Commission (NHC). The numbers quickly multiplied in late January, causing lockdowns and travel bans. By March, daily cases started to drop significantly with only 47 new cases on March 6.

Despite the progress, China has had clusters of new cases that were appearing across the country. Media coverage of the new cases and possible second wave of coronavirus infections has spread fear and an anti-foreigner phobia. Xenophobic feelings were particularly widespread in the city of Guangzhou, also known as “Little Africa,” because it has the largest African community in China. In that city, Africans have been evicted by their landlords, leaving them homeless during this troublesome time. They have also been turned away from some hotels because of the shared idea that foreigners in the country are the source of the new imported cases of the virus.

Although many Africans claim that they have not been outside of the country or had any contact with COVID-19 patients, it was not enough to convince their landlords or the government. “They visited homes of African residents, testing them on the spot or instructing them to take a test at a hospital. Some were ordered to self-isolate at home with surveillance cameras or alarms installed outside of their apartments,” according to Human Rights Watch. Even when the African evictees complied with authorities to be tested and quarantined in hotels, when they returned to their homes and showed their certificates they were still rejected.

The treatment of the African community during this pandemic was not exclusive, as it started to spill over to African Americans, and then Black people as a whole. Many businesses in Guangzhou have been refusing the entry and service of Blacks, such as malls, restaurants, hotels, and stores. Most notably on social media, a Guangzhou McDonald’s put up a sign on its front doors stating that black people were no longer allowed in the restaurant for health reasons.

This sparked major backlash resulting in McDonald’s making a statement to NBC News saying, “The sign is ‘not representative of our inclusive values’ and was removed.” The restaurant was temporarily closed to “‘further educate managers and employees on our values, which includes serving all members of the communities in which we operate,’ McDonald’s said.”

Both Asians and Blacks have had racist and xenophobic experiences before the coronavirus, but as it continues to spread, it amplifies the inappropriate and uninformed behaviors of many, resulting in the increase of harm, displacement, and bias at a time when many are already struggling.


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