By Diya Khanna ’25 for Fall 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic, which started November 2019, brought a wave of anti-Asian racism across the globe. In particular, Asians and Asian Americans who have long been exploited as “vessels of blame and anxiety” from the commencement of the Gold Rush to the hysteria of “yellow peril” were scapegoated. While some argue that the roots of this systemic racism are embedded in the long-standing discriminatory attitudes against Asians, others perceive it as an ongoing issue of concern that Asians cannot ever permanently escape from. Either way, it is crucial to recognise and acknowledge the persistent nature of this racism and the detrimental consequences it brings.
It has been 22 months since the pandemic hit the U.S. and although the pandemic reflected a transient nature, anti-Asian racism remained consistent. In fact, it would be safe to say, at this point, that its effects only manifolded. Even today, it is not uncommon to find individuals of Asian origin being subjected to harassment and discrimination, from verbal insults that others claim are jokes to physical attacks in public spaces.
Former POTUS Donald Trump dubbing COVID-19 as “kung flu” is just one of the many ways in which Asians have been targeted during the course of the pandemic. Additionally, many blame Asians for starting and spreading COVID-19 at multiple points during the pandemic. Couple this blame with the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype and the blame’s impact multiplies. The idea that Asian Americans are foreigners and outsiders makes it easier for them to be viewed as targets for people’s dissatisfaction, anger, fear, and aggression, which can be seen in the xenophobia and anti-Asian violence that has been witnessed throughout this outbreak.
On another level, while the racism might seem apparent, COVID-19 opened the world’s eyes to an alternative reality; the surge in the levels of invisibility and ignorance towards anti-Asian hate crimes compelled people to think of the causes why an issue as grave as this went largely unnoticed. What is particularly troublesome is the magnitude of violence it took throughout the duration of this pandemic for individuals to pinpoint that there was, in fact, an issue. The effects of these discriminatory practices have also trickled down to the Asian diaspora across different nations who find themselves in a quandary each time a passer-by exclaims “the pandemic came from a bat in China.” Such unsubstantiated yet prejudicial statements have serious implications for people spanning across generations who not only identify themselves as Asian but also those who sympathise with them.
For future generations, it could function as fuel for thoughts relating to misplaced identity. The model minority myth, which holds that Asian Americans are singularly successful by labelling them as quiet and obedient, is yet another stereotype contributing significantly to anti-Asian bigotry and hatred. While the causes and implications of anti-Asian racism in the context of the ongoing pandemic require it to be viewed from a multidimensional perspective, what is clear is that the pandemic has brought to light the world’s lack of understanding and preparedness, as well as long-standing injustices that continue to adversely affect communities of color. It is these pressing times that push us towards the need to delve into the very foundations that our society was built on.