By Aigner Settles
It was an early June morning when Nicholas Wu, 24, decided to go for a casual jog in
Washington D.C. Wu had been jogging by himself with his headphones, when he was suddenly disrupted by an older Caucasian woman screaming at him to stay away.
He had not approached the woman, nor had he been any closer than six feet because of social distancing, but the woman continued to shout until he had passed her.
Moments later, another jogger passed the same woman, but came in closer distance than
Wu had. However, the woman seemed to not give the jogger a second thought. The only visible difference between Wu and the second jogger were that he was Asian, while the other person was white.
“I decided not to engage and kept going. I stopped a little bit further down to catch my breath, looked back and saw a white woman pass within two feet of this person and there was no reaction,” he recalled.
Since the nation’s shutdown in early March to slow the spread of COVID-19, Asian Americans have faced an increase in discrimination. The virus originated in Wuhan, China, and much of the recent racism comes as a result of people blaming Asians for the spread of the coronavirus.
As of July, nearly 40 percent of Asian Americans have reported negative experiences because of their race over the course of the pandemic, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Within a month of the pandemic’s sweep across the nation, the Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate Reporting Center collected more than 1,500 reports of racially charged violence against Asian Americans, though there are likely many more cases.
“Because there’s been such underreporting of hate-related incidents, the data is dodgy,” said Wu, a Chinese-American reporter for USA Today. “We know this is happening, but the magnitude is tricky to measure.” Wu describes the surge in these instances as “concerning, annoying, and saddening in many ways.”
Many attribute the rise in discrimination to President Trump, who has publicly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” multiple times. He’s since stated that the alternative names for coronavirus were meant to reference where the virus originated, rather than the people themselves. However, the phrases have already proved to be problematic for the Asian community as a whole.
“The disease itself doesn’t discriminate, but people often do, and the fact that our nation-
al leader is coming on T.V., on the media and saying that has ripple effects,” said Audrey Pan, an organizer for Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories On the East
Coast (RAISE), a youth group that advocates for undocumented Asian immigrants.
“A lot of people might think that it’s okay to say, but those racist remarks have real physical implications for people. People have been beaten up, people have been kicked out of stores, not let into public places because of this type of language,” she added.
Mos Neammanee, 22, a member of RAISE, has been a victim of anti-Asian discrimination as well. “In person, I’ve experienced [it] mainly when I commute to school,” he said. “A lot of people, I’ve noticed when the pandemic hit, tried to avoid me … I still remember this one guy said, ‘Why are they letting these people into the country?’”
Asian American organizations have launched campaigns to bring attention to the growing harassment, including the NEA Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus’s “I Am Not a Virus” campaign and the IW Group’s #WashtheHate hashtag. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng
from New York’s 6th District introduced legislation to combat discrimination amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Though instances of blatant racism towards Asian Americans have increased since the beginning of the pandemic, they are not new to American history.
“COVID has acted as an accelerant on existing inequities in American life,” said Wu. “Asian Americans simply seem to be a part of that.”