As the US economy falters and many Americans have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, hostility toward Asians has recently accelerated. According to CNN, there have been approximately 3,000 cases of violence against Asians and Asian Americans in the US in the past year. CBS News reported that, “Nearly 500 Asians in New York were targets of bias incidents or hate crimes in 2020, ranging from verbal to physical assaults, including acid attacks.” NBC News said in a report last week that, “A man violently threw a Chinese woman to the ground outside a bakery in New York City.” In response, a large protest rally was recently held in NYC, condemning violence against Asians. Some of the demonstrators held a banner that read, “We’re American, too.” An Asian girl at the rally held a picket saying, “I am not a virus.”
CNN’s reports were especially disheartening and appalling: “An 84-year-old man from Thailand died in late January after being attacked on his morning walk in San Francisco. Days later, a 91-year-old Asian man was violently shoved to the ground in Oakland‘s Chinatown. Last week, a 64-year-old woman was robbed outside a Vietnamese market in San Jose, California. And a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed in the face last week on the New York City subway.”
Reading this news, one might wonder, “Why were the victims of racial crimes mostly elderly Asians?” Were the assailants afraid that young Asians might be well versed in kung-fu, karate, or taekwondo? If so, it would be consistent with their cowardice. No surprise, then, that they would attack women, too, for it is an unspoken rule among cowards that they must prey on the most vulnerable. Surely, such a thing is un-American.
One might also wonder, why do they attack all Asians indiscriminately? It is already absurd for any Asian person to be held responsible for COVID-19, let alone for all Asians to face verbal or physical assaults because of a global pandemic.
Still, however, a crowd recently jeered at Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese American NBA player, by calling him “Coronavirus.” Although it is not clear if the coronavirus is what directly triggered all of these assaults against Asians, violence against Asians and Asian Americans has exponentially increased since COVID-19.
News of these racial crimes is especially devastating for Asian Americans who were born on US soil. They are Americans, and yet they are facing harassment and assault as if they were foreigners, simply because they look different. Many Asian Americans are concerned about their children. Kids can be cruel and thus may pick on Asian American students at school, following their social milieu. The problem is that racial harassment and assault will leave an indelible scar in the mind of children of Asian origin in America.
CNN pointed out that Donald Trump was largely responsible for the racial violence because he instigated racism by repeatedly calling COVID-19 “the Wuhan Virus.” Terrible as that stigma is for those of Chinese descent, it certainly has not led to restraint against blaming all Asians for the spread of the disease. Some Americans do not seem to realize that Asia, just like Europe, is a vast continent where many different countries exist.
Indeed, how would Canadians or Europeans feel, if the people in an anti-American country in Asia harassed or violently assaulted all Caucasians simply because they looked alike? You cannot judge a person’s nationality simply by his or her physical appearances. Racial bigotry is wrong, but stereotyping is even worse.
When terrorists hijacked an airplane on 9/11, they executed regular Americans first. Although those innocent Americans had nothing to do with Washington’s foreign policies, terrorists killed them anyway simply because they carried a US passport. The harassment and violent assault on Asians these days by racially prejudiced Americans resonate with the terrorists’ outrageous crimes at that time.
One of my American friends in Korea once told me that it would be a good idea for Americans to live in a foreign country for some time in their lives. Then, the American would be able to experience valuable things, such as living in a foreign country as a marginal minority, isolated and alienated from the mainstream culture and society. Then, the American would be able to understand the predicament of ethnic and cultural minorities in the United States.
I have lived in America for a long time, studying and teaching. Never before have I felt that living in America as an Asian is difficult. These days, however, things are no longer the same due to COVID-19. When I stroll in my apartment complex these days, I cannot but help feeling that my neighbors might unconsciously blame me for the coronavirus because I am Asian. Fortunately, I live in a small town where racial prejudice does not exist. Nevertheless, these days I am not as comfortable as I used to be.
Due to the coronavirus, we are now living in difficult times. We can only hope that this pandemic ordeal ends soon and everything goes back to normal. Then, America will surely regain its generosity, tolerance, and diversity. Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.