Long before I became an assistant campaign manager at the Ad Council, I was a macaroni-and-cheese loving, horseback riding, extremely timid half-Asian girl in a coastal Connecticut town, raised by an English, Polish, Hungarian, Welsh, Swedish, German mother and a Chinese father. I never thought much about my identity until second grade, when I heard a racist remark from a classmate about how my lunch smelled. I noticed I had been targeted because of my race, not because of my personality or character. I asked myself, how can you judge a person without knowing them?
Fast forward to present day and I’m seeing racism directed towards my fellow Asian Americans increase by the hour as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds—unfortunately, we’re seeing confusion, anxiety and fear fueling increased prejudice, suspicion, discrimination, harassment, stereotyping, and abuse directed towards Asian Americans. Those stigmas are especially harmful when perpetuated by members of our own government, who have referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus” and “Kung Flu.”
Sadly, America has a history of stigmatizing Chinese-Americans that goes back much further than my days in the grade-school cafeteria, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first immigration law that excluded an entire ethnic group, to 1900, when San Francisco forced all Chinatown residents into quarantine because they were thought to be carriers of the Bubonic plague, to what we’re seeing today.
Here are six ways you can stop discrimination and support yourself, your colleagues and your community.
1. Choose your words carefully
For example, phrases like “people who have contracted COVID-19,” rather than referring to those people as victims, can help to avoid stigmatization. Don’t attach locations or ethnicity (“Wuhan Virus,” “Chinese Virus,” “Asian Virus”) to the disease. Avoid spreading unconfirmed rumors and fear-mongering language like “apocalyptic” and “plague.” And speak up if you hear, see or read stigmatizing comments or misinformation. The below chart includes a digestible break down of language do’s and don’ts.
If you or someone you know has experienced or witnessed racism, file an incident report with AP3CON, with AAAJ or the OCA. In less than three weeks since AP3CON’s “Stop AAPI Hate” campaign began, they’ve documented more than 1,000 incidents of verbal harassment, shunning and physical assault.
3. Stand up
Attend a virtual training on bystander intervention to stop anti-Asian/American and xenophobic harassment, sponsored by Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and HollaBack! You’ll learn how you can effectively intervene as a bystander without compromising your safety. Through April and May, you can sign up here for a free virtual training.
If you need (or need to share) a straightforward, shareable explanation of why we shouldn’t call COVID-19 a “Chinese virus,” here’s a compact video. If you’re looking for a deeper teach-in resource for your workplace, check out this zine from the Asian American Feminist Collective or this comic to learn more about Wuhan’s rich identity beyond the headlines.
5. Order in or takeout
Over the past few weeks, many Asian restaurants and businesses have been especially vulnerable to massive sales declines, with some losing as much as 80% of their customers even before city-mandated closures. Show support by ordering takeout or delivery from your local favorites. If you live in NYC, home to a beautiful, thriving Chinese food scene, check out “Welcome to Chinatown,” a new grassroots initiative that allows customers to support local restaurants through buying gift cards and merchandise.
6. Tune in
If you want to hear more Asian American and Asian diaspora voices, a few of my favorite podcasts that have focused on COVID-19’s impact include $6.99 Per Lb, They Call Us Bruce, the Model Majority Podcast and Escape From Plan A. Many more are continuing to put out work that’s not specifically about COVID-19, but may offer relief, release, or connection nonetheless—like Rock the Boat.
If you’re feeling lost or uncertain on how to proceed in a given moment, ask yourself: How do you want to remember this pandemic? As a time you witnessed hate and suffering toward our Asian American communities? Or a time you stood up to it? Now more than ever, it’s important to practice compassion towards ourselves and each other. Though in many ways we’re in uncharted territory, we’re also seeing history repeat itself, and it’s up to all of us to stop the stigma.