The “Chinese virus…” Or is it?

In a recent White House briefing, President Trump seems to have crossed out “corona” in his speech and instead called it the “Chinese virus.” GRAPHIC BY HALEY KEIZUR/FOGHORN

Storm Wold is a sophomore sociology major.

Ethan Keeling is a freshman sociology major.

In late February, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. USF students were still in the classroom, but the masks were pulled out. In mid-March, USF alerted students that campus would close and the dorms were to be cleared out. When schools and businesses started shutting down, San Francisco became a ghost town very quickly — and the rest of the U.S. has since followed suit. 

The virus is believed to have started in Wuhan, China in November 2019 and has spread rapidly since then. At the time of publication, almost a million cases have been confirmed worldwide with no cure or vaccine. No one knows when or how this will end. Chaos, fear, and anger have become elevated during this uncertain time… and national trends indicate that the pandemic may have only just begun for San Francisco.

The Bay Area has a large Asian population, many of whom were born and raised here. However, in the last few weeks, hate crimes against Asian individuals have risen. This is almost absolutely due to COVID-19 because, before the outbreak began, no large number of crimes against Asian people were reported in such a short time frame. In mid-February, a small group of men in the Bayview District physically assaulted an Asian man on his way home, calling him racial slurs. Another case involved an Asian woman being refused entry into a Lyft at San Francisco International Airport SFO.

This racism is happening in broad daylight, being masked as a “fear of getting sick.” Is this how the Bay Area will continue to react? According to the Chinese Merchants Association, San Francisco’s famous Chinatown was hit with a 50% drop in foot traffic in early February — over a month prior to the shelter-in-place order. Asian individuals of any background are being targeted because of the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype, which is the idea that members of minority groups tend to be perceived as outsiders, even in their own birthplace, and therefore are seen as being capable of “bringing” viruses and problems to the U.S. 

Although the perpetual foreigner stereotype has been observed to particularly affect Asian American groups, it has been invoked a lot during this last decade during global health scares: with the Ebola virus (2014) it was used to target black populations, and with the MERS outbreak (2011) it was Middle Eastern populations. Evidently, as President Donald Trump continues to call COVID-19 “the Chinese virus,” the perpetual foreigner stereotype will continue to cause damage and spark fear for Asian populations. 

Social media has a huge influence on how this pandemic is viewed and has provided easy access to all information on COVID-19 as of late. However, SFGate argued that “when someone bases their decisions on opinions, not that of experts, you start to enclose yourself in a bubble of fear.” Thus, when people online blame a group for this pandemic, fear is turned to anger, and anger then turns into discrimination. This is why education and expert information are key to overcoming such ignorance. Don’t let Twitter be your source for all things coronavirus; it’s not reliable (and citing Twitter doesn’t sound good). 

In San Francisco, arguably the most liberal city in the nation, news reports and social media anecdotes indicate that racist fear is spreading. When it came to giving an Asian woman a ride she paid for, her driver refused her entry because they didn’t want to “get sick” — but when there are 59 confirmed deaths in the Bay Area, everyone decides it’s time to go to the park? This is hypocrisy and ignorance at its finest. The Bay Area is better than this. We, as a community, can do better. We need to be aware of how we react to crises. When things get tough for communities, coming together should be our top priority, not pushing away those who we perceive as “the other.”

Here are some good examples of what to actually do. First, stop yourself from falling for the “perpetual foreigner” fear narrative. Second, think for yourself, and think about how Asian individuals must feel right now. Third, look more into what the news is saying about the virus. Educate yourself. Learn where active cases are near you and about how victims are being taken care of. The more information you know, the calmer you will be. It’s not easy to realize that you may have been biased against others, but once you do, it will be easier to make things right. 

Finally, go home and stay home. Stop putting others at risk because you are bored.

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