Wuhan Virus, China Virus, WuFlu, Chinese Virus, Kung flu — these hateful terms have all been used as a twisted substitute for the real name of the deadly worldwide Coronavirus that has dominated the last year. These terms have inflamed xenophobia towards Asians in the United States and across the world and my people are facing brutal attacks and discrimination as a direct result. Former U.S. President Donald Trump coined these terms without stopping to think of the effect that it would have on not only Asian-Americans but Asians all over the world. As we have seen with events such as the attempted coup on the US Capitol, it is clear that Trump’s words incite action, and committing acts of hatred against Asians is no exception.
I am no stranger to discrimination. As an Asian-American Israeli, I have seen how today’s antisemitism is veiled under the guise of anti-Zionism. Holding American Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government is not only despicable, but it is also wholly unfair. American Jews have no say in Israel’s policies and reasonable people can disagree on Israeli politics. But just as Jews have been persecuted under the guise of criticizing the Israeli government, now Asian Americans are suffering the same fate for the role China played — real or perceived – in the spread of the Coronavirus.
Ever since Trump began his reckless tirades against China, there has been a spike in anti-Asian hatred. As a woman of Chinese descent, I have endured this persecution firsthand. I have suffered stares and comments. Standing at a bus stop, I stood frozen as a man looked me dead in the eyes as he told his wife, “All Chinese people should be shipped out of this country.” A colleague of mine even coughed at me because I was Asian and according to him, it was a “problem.” However, I am lucky. I have not been violently attacked on the streets or shot in my place of work like others who look like me. It seems that racism never rests.
The truth is that those who are committing these acts of violence already had hate within them. Anti-Asian racism in the United States did not begin with the Coronavirus. In fact, one of the first anti-immigration laws passed in the US was the Page Act of 1875, which explicitly prohibited immigrant laborers from “China, Japan, or any Oriental country” because Asian women were synonymous with sex workers, and thus a threat to the racial purity of the United States. This was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, meant to keep “yellow peril” out — even though these immigrants, one of whom was my great grandfather, came and built the country’s railroads. During World War II we saw Japanese-Americans blamed for the treacherous actions of Japan when they were put into internment camps. And once again we see people using this fallacy as an excuse to apply China’s faults to all those who are Chinese – or just happen to look like they are.
Just as criticism of China is now being used as an excuse for xenophobia, for years antisemitism has masqueraded as simple criticism of Israel — the only Jewish state in the world. Jewish people have suffered the consequences of this and now Asian Americans are suffering in the same way. Jewish communities walk in fear of violence in their own cities. Jewish students are afraid to openly support Israel in fear that they will be ostracized by their peers, or even failed by their professors. Acts of violence, discrimination, isolation — both Jewish and Asian Americans face these hardships every day for the so-called crimes of nations on the other side of the world.
The fact that in today’s world we are able to draw such glaring similarities between these two types of discrimination is extremely disheartening. I and my Asian American peers are not responsible for the actions of the Chinese government. The same goes for American Jews. We are Americans just like everyone else. China cannot and should not be used as an excuse to attack people of Asian descent just as Israel cannot and should not be used as an excuse to attack Jews. We can and we must do more to end the ignorance that has led to this spike in hatred. Asians and Jews deserve to support their respective lineages without walking the streets in fear of who might find out.