The COVID-19 pandemic has done more than spread sickness — as the infection numbers rise, so have racially-motivated incidents of harassment and violence against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the U.S.
In a press release published on April 3, the STOP AAPI HATE reporting center reported over 1,100 reports of AAPI individuals being threatened, harassed or assaulted since the center’s official launch on March 19, 2020.
Common threads in these incidents include victims being told to “Go back to China,” blamed for “bringing the virus” and onslaught with racial slurs.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been working alongside the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) and Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) to track and condemn these attacks.
Aaron Alquist, south central regional director of the ADL, spoke about the importance of condemning these acts of discrimiantion and violence and warned against assigning blame to one community.
“That scapegoating, if you look throughout history, has had such devastating impacts on vulnerable communities,” Alquist said. “Looking at the Jewish community in the Holocaust, the Nazis scapegoated them and other communities for all the problems that Germany had following WWI. We know what that looks like and we need to be alert and on guard to make sure that we don’t allow for scapegoating to happen now.”
Louisiana is not exempt from these incidents: The Times-Picayune reported two Tulane “affiliates” were threatened to be killed by a gunman who asked if they're “Chinese or Japanese.” When one of the pair responded that they were there to help, the gunmen “fist-bumped” him and walked away.
COVID-19 has forced our administration here at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to quickly adapt to the new reality of the state-wide stay-at-home-order, but for Asian-American and Pacific Islander students, the potential for harassment and attacks are underlying anxieties.
Tyler Nguyen, junior in civil engineering and public relations manager of the Vietnamese Student Organization (VSO), touched on how these incidents have affected how he moves through the world.
“When I go out to the store, I don’t know if it’s just me being paranoid, but I’ll get stares or people will go out of their way to walk further away from me,” Nguyen said. “It does create something in my mind that makes me more cautious about my surroundings, but nothing more than that. I’ve been lucky not to have anything like that happen to me.”
The language used to reference the virus has also been noted as potentially fueling these incidents. CNBC detailed President Trump’s repeated use of the term “Chinese Virus” while ABC News reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to adopt the term “Wuhan virus” as an alternative.
Alquist said he is concerned with associating the virus with one particular group.
“I feel that what we need more than anything right now is confidence in leading voices that our government has the best interest of the American people at heart,” Alquist said.
“It’s difficult when we hear from top-level down, language that can easily be interpreted as scapegoating either ethnic minorities or entire nations and somehow assigning blame,” he continued. “This is not a virus that targets one specific group, gender, race or religion — it hits everybody. We cannot think of a virus in a biased lense.”
Now more than ever is a time to come together. Nguyen urged those who may have misconstrued ideas of Asian-Americans to rethink their ideas, and pushed for people to be vocal allies moving forward.
“If you have these biases, just kind of look within yourself and ask yourself why you think a certain way and ask yourself the origin of those thoughts,” Nguyen said. “Be more kind to people. You never know what anyone is going through. And if you see someone expressing these biases and you’re in a position to stop someone and help someone else, do that.”