The actual virus, SARS-CoV2, hasn’t been the only nasty insidious brainless thing that many Asian Americans have had to deal with during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Nope, there’s also been the continuing bigotry and anti-Asian sentiment that the spread of the virus has uncovered. It certainly hasn’t eased up since I wrote about it for Forbes back in February, which was about three missed haircuts ago. In fact, in many ways it has gotten worse. But if you think that all Asian Americans are going to take this lying down, in the words of Judas Priest, you’ve got another thing coming. Just look at what an increasing number of prominent Asian Americans and efforts like the #WashTheHate campaign have been doing.
It isn’t every day that Judas Priest is quoted in an infectious disease-related article but desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s also motivated the IW Group, an Asian American communications agency, to bring together Asian American celebrities from film and television to launch #WashTheHate, a social media campaign designed to raise awareness about anti-Asian bigotry amidst the ongoing pandemic. If you are wondering, “what anti-Asian bigotry are you talking about,” that’s part of the problem. The many, many incidents that have occurred have not been getting nearly enough attention.
Heck even actor Tzi Ma, who played the very cool Consul Han in the Rush Hour movie series, had the wonderful experience of a random stranger in a Whole Foods parking lot yelling that Ma should be quarantined, simply because Ma is of Asian-descent, as described by Audrey Cleo Yap for Variety. Stay classy Whole Foods parking lot stranger. Instead of yelling at people, maybe you should concentrate on doing things that can actually help slow the pandemic such as washing your hands, which Ma does in this video from the #WashTheHate campaign:
Get it? Wash your hands to get rid of the Covid-19 coronavirus, and at the same time wash your hands of hate? The first takes at least 20 seconds. The second maybe longer.
Another celebrity Catherine Haena Kim, who has acted in multiple TV series such as FBI, Ballers, and Hawaii Five-0, relayed a similar experience, in which two girls were so harassing and threatening that they had to escorted out by security. This in Kim’s words “hit close to home” and provided further motivation for her to film the following video for #WashTheHate:
Kim emphasized, “Covid-19 affect everyone equally. We are all human beings and should be helping each other not trying to find people to blame.”
Want some more examples of nasty encounters? Here is just a sampling of those reported by various news outlets:
- An increasing number of anti-Asian incidents such as racist graffiti have appeared on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, as Kelly Meyerhofer detailed for the Wisconsin State Journal. This included graffiti that said “It’s from China #CHINESEVIRUS.” Yes, people are including hashtags on racist graffiti these days.
- A 60-year-old man allegedly yelled “Go back to China” and “You are dirty, get your temperature checked,” before trying to punch a 26-year-old woman of Asian descent in Brooklyn as described by Wes Parnell for The New York Daily News.
- A 33-year old woman reportedly blamed a 34-year-old Asian woman for the spread of the new coronavirus, spat in her face, and attacked her. That’s right, a women who spat in someone’s face blamed that person for spreading SARS-CoV2.
- A stranger allegedly followed a 47-year-old man of Asian-descent and his 10-year-old son yelling racial epithets and eventually hitting the man on the head. You haven’t had a real father-son moment until you’ve been followed by a stranger and hit on the head.
- A stranger reportedly punched a 23-year-old Korean woman in the face and allegedly yelled at her “Where’s your (expletive) mask” and “You’ve got coronavirus, you Asian (expletive).” Punching is usually not part of the Covid-19 coronavirus testing procedure.
- A teen kicked a 59-year-old man of Asian-descent whom the teen didn’t know in the back, calling the man a “(expletive) Chinese coronavirus,” and telling the man to go back to his country. Yes, it seems like a teen told a man that he was a virus, not infected with or carrying a virus, but one gigantic virus. He also told the man to go back to his country when the man was already in his country.
Yeah, punching, spitting, and accosting strangers in general aren’t exactly social distancing. Here’s another example:
That’s exactly what you want after you’ve lost a loved one to Covid-19, racist harassment. Can you just feel the love?
Again, all of these events comprise just a sample of all the reported cases, as this tweet from the #WashTheHate campaign showed:
Yep, over 1700 reports. That is going require quite a lot of sanitizer and is probably just the tip of the iceberg, maybe even only an ice cube or so. As Kim said, “Asian Americans often don’t talk about such times. We may feel uncomfortable to be spotlighted and ashamed and almost want to shake it off.” Shake it off may work as a song title, but it doesn’t work with racism.
Then there’s what’s been transpiring on social media, which at its worst can be the mold and soap scum on the bottom of a cesspool that’s been loaded with cow dung in the middle of a bleep storm when a meteor hits during an earthquake. For example, this tweet from Weijia Jiang, CBS News White House Correspondent, got lots of interesting responses that weren’t the friendliest, such as the following:
Avoiding any contact with Chinese people? Whoa, someone’s something needs washing. Again, Jiang works for CBS, a U.S. broadcasting network, you know that station that brings you 60 Minutes and seemingly a dozen versions of NCIS.
So have these incidents gotten much attention? Have they created a general uproar?Not exactly. Take a look at the following tweet:
In this case, “f” probably doesn’t stand for filet-o-fish. The concern is that continuing racism and discrimination against Asian Americans in pre-pandemic times just hasn’t received the attention that it deserves. Ma indicated that part of the problem has stemmed from Asian Americans being portrayed as the “model minority” (not by Asian Americans, by the way, but by others). Such a portrayal has hidden what’s really going on and, as Ma said, “puts [Asian Americans] up against other minorities. It pits one minority against another. And some have actually bought into that.”
Plus, before the pandemic hit, a lot of the discrimination had been more subtle, not as blatant as the Chinese Exclusion Act that went all the way to 1943 or the Japanese Internment camps during World War II. Instead, it has manifested more as social, political, economic, and career barriers such as the so-called Bamboo ceilings to advancement into more leadership and prominent positions. It’s also manifested as negative stereotypes and unflattering portrayals in film, television, and other venues when Asian Americans even make an appearance. Then, there are many struggling Asian Americans who have been overlooked and left isolated. Such racism may not be very easy to notice until, let’s see, some kind of emergency like say a pandemic arrives.
Yep, stress can be akin to a Red Light District for underlying problems, revealing a lot, including some really nasty stuff. The stress accompanying the pandemic has uncovered lots of existing problems in our society including, drum roll please, racism. Here’s the positive news, though. Revealing existing problems creates opportunities to address them head on, which is something more and more Asian Americans are doing.
That’s why efforts like #WashTheHate are so important, an opportunity for change.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Ma. “This stuff isn’t going away. It keeps happening over and over again. We need to speak out because that is the American way.”
As Kim related, “our job to encourage the older generation to talk about these problems as well.”
Ma explained how all of this is important to not only Asian American but the broader society: “If one group is a target, other groups will eventually be targets.” Yep, racism isn’t a suit or a dress that a person wears only to certain events.
Other Asian American celebrities have been speaking up as well. Take a look at what actor George Takei of Star Trek fame tweeted:
Actor Daniel Dae Kim, who has had roles in the television series Lost and Hawaii-Five-O expressed similar sentiments on Instagram:
And John Cho, the star of the movie Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle The Grudge, and the ABC television series Selfie, wrote in an essay for the Los Angeles Times:”The pandemic is reminding us that our belonging is conditional. One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who ‘brought’ the virus here.”
Conditional relationships are not good relationships. As they say, the true measure of any relationship is what happens when things don’t go well, when the proverbial bleep hits the proverbial fan. After all, wedding vows don’t go “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, not for worse, for richer, not for poorer, in health and in health, to love and to cherish, till you are not really needed anymore or a pandemic occurs.” Feeling like a foreigner in a country that you were born in, grew up in, and contributed to is not a good feeling.
This pandemic has been bad in many, many ways: the loss of life, the suffering, the bigotry, and the hate. But again one potential bright spot is that the pandemic has ripped the covering off major existing problems in our society that need addressing. As the virus has demonstrated, you can’t always see what is very damaging and dangerous. This pandemic could be a real opportunity for positive change in many ways. After all, you may not be able to wash what you can’t readily see.