With the number of cases of Coronavirus soaring in the UK, understandably it’s exacerbated many people’s general anxiety about catching the virus and the Asian community, more than ever, seems to be the scapegoat. Every day I hear of more businesses having to shut shop and close down due to the sharp decline in customers – people are boycotting restaurants, nail salons and stores and some are even refusing to be seen by doctors of Asian descent.
At the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, I’d only heard of xenophobic experiences through other people; my friend’s dad, from mainland China, had London commuters quite literally move away from him on the Tube as soon as he sat down, simply because he looked like the images portrayed in the media.
It wasn’t until this week that xenophobia really hit home and I experienced it for myself when a group of construction workers chuckled “Corona alert!” at me as I walked past. Though my experience might be much milder than my friend’s dad, I think it’s safe to say we both now feel the same vulnerability. If something more aggressive were to happen, I’ll most likely feel like it’s me against the world because of my skin colour, which I know isn’t the reality but I simply wouldn’t have the confidence or assumption to expect the public to intervene on my behalf. People like us have been reduced to an “ethnicity” rather than individuals.
Last week the owners of a Chinese takeaway in Reading displayed a heartbreaking sign on the window urging people to continue visiting the fast food establishment after business dwindled due to the spread of the virus, telling their customers that they had “not been to China in over 20 years” and reassuring them that “all ingredients are sourced within the UK.” It really showed how Xenophobia is hurting the community.
Through following a few Asian news sources on instagram, I’ve seen an elderly man in San Francisco having his cart of cans robbed while the perpetrators filmed and made racially charged remarks at him. There was a 23-year-old Singaporean student named Jonathan Mok who was randomly attacked by a group of men who told him “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country” on Oxford Street just last month. Pictures of him online showing his very bruised and swollen eye are enough to make anyone nervous.
The most recent case was the 24-year-old Thai tax consultant who was travelling home to west London when he was attacked on his local high street in broad daylight, left stunned and bleeding with a broken nose as one of the attackers stole his headphones and the other filmed the attack on phone.
These are just a few handful of stories covered by mainstream media but what about the vulnerable groups of people in the community who are more at risk like the elderly or disenfranchised? These are the ones who will become even more isolated when it’s coupled with the language barrier. I bet many of these cases go unreported.
The media is also making the problem worse. It’s extremely frustrating to see certain news outlets still using imagery of Asians wearing masks for outbreak-related articles regardless of geographic location. If a picture is worth a thousand words then it’s very clear what message that is sending. This lack of responsibility is now proving very problematic for the Asian community around the world as it perpetuates the stereotype that we are to blame. In America, it’s sometimes referred to as the “Asian Coronavirus” in the media, and no wonder violence towards people of Asian descent is increasing.
It’s been amazing to see some positive stories coming out from the public who are standing up for the community, like the vigilante group known as the Guardian Angels who are out on the streets of Chinatown, New York to help those targeted for hate crimes amid the outbreak. Hearing stories like these do offer respite from the more serious incidents, some involving assault. In Australia, there’s a hashtag #IWillEatWithYou to encourage people to still go to visit and support Chinese eateries to Counter anti-Asian stigma.
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We cannot be resilient without the support of non-Asian friends and family who can help us stand up to the unfair prejudice. This is 2020 and there is no place for outdated mentality. The virus does not care for race and the only way to get through it is together, not apart.