New York—May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, which is meant to be a time to celebrate the experiences, contributions, and accomplishments of people of Asian/Pacific Islander descent in the United States. However, in this time of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), there is little to celebrate, especially as some in our nation have chosen to fan the flames of racism and discrimination against our Asian and Asian American fellow citizens.
As we grapple with COVID-19, we at NYU Metro Center are deeply concerned that recent incidents of racism and discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans threaten our collective public safety. Since COVID-19 first entered the U.S., people of Asian descent have been subjected to violent attacks, discrimination against their businesses, and xenophobic portrayals by the media and our elected leaders. The harmful rhetoric persists, including the repeated use of “China coronavirus,” “Chinese coronavirus,” or simply “Chinese virus” despite guidance by the World Health Organization discouraging the use of geographic locations when naming illnesses because it could stigmatize populations associated with those places.
We are, however, learning that COVID-19 most likely did not make its entrance in the U.S. via China or any other Asian nation. There is also emerging evidence that begs the question as to the extent to which COVID-19 originated anywhere on the Asian continent. Regardless its origins or how the disease entered the U.S., we can never defeat a disease of the flesh as long as a disease of the soul overtakes us.
Indeed, we are reminded of the racist and xenophobic history of our nation—from The Chinese massacre of 1871, a race riot that occurred in Los Angeles, California, where a mob of people entered Chinatown and attacked, robbed, and murdered Chinese residents. An estimated 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants were hanged by the mob in the course of the riot, though most had already been shot to death. Ten men of the more than 500 person mob were prosecuted and eight were convicted of manslaughter in these deaths. However, the convictions were overturned on appeal due to ‘technicalities.’
We are also reminded of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act—the first immigration law placing restrictions on an entire ethnic group—of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and of other racist policies aimed at Asians and Asian Americans up to and including the 2019 Public Charge Rule.
Our nation has long treated people of Asian descent with suspicion. As such, we call upon policymakers, the media, and the public to take affirmative steps to halt and condemn the acts of racism, discrimination, and violence aimed at Asians and Asian Americans because we must work together to promote racial equity, advance racial healing, and ensure that all children, families, and communities have genuine opportunities to reach their full potential.
NYU Metro Center, therefore, unequivocally denounces the escalating violence and rhetoric aimed at people of Asian descent amid the COVID-19 outbreak and prior to it. In this time of heightening tensions and fears, it is more important than ever that we collectively get this right so that we do not give others, including politicians and the general public, an excuse to get it wrong.