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US Leaders Should Combat Anti-Asian Racism, Xenophobia

Justice Department Should Heed Bipartisan Calls for Action

In this screenshot, a man helps a shop owner pick up a display stand after a group of teenagers vandalize the store in Chinatown San Francisco on March 16, 2020.   © 2020 CrimesAgainstAsians/Facebook

People of Asian descent in the United States have faced two pandemics in 2020: Covid-19 and its resulting racism and xenophobia.

The reporting center, STOP AAPI HATE, received more than 2,373 self-reported incidents of racism, hate speech, discrimination, and physical attacks against Asians and Asian Americans from March to July 2020. In California, women reported almost twice as many cases as men, and 11.2 percent of the incidents were against older people. Incidents have included a family being yelled at with obscenities while trying to enjoy dinner, an 89-year-old woman being slapped and set on fire on a public street, and an attempted murder of two children, ages 2 and 6, and their father while grocery shopping. Even as over two million Asian American and Pacific Islander healthcare workers risk their lives on the medical front lines, they are being told, “Go back to China!” or “You’re a disgusting, filthy bat-eater!” Asians and Asian Americans not only face verbal or physical attacks, but are also riddled with anxiety from “stereotype threat,” fearing that even clearing their throats or coughing may confirm negative stereotypes linking them to Covid-19.

By deliberately referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus” or “kung flu,” President Donald Trump is endangering people of Asian descent by fueling anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. This flies in the face of best practice guidelines issued by the World Health Organization to discourage unintended stigmatization when naming infectious diseases. Trump should stop using language that could be encouraging harassment, discrimination, and violence.

The federal government needs to take action. Unlike following the 9/11 attacks on the US and the SARS outbreak, neither the US Department of Justice nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acted, respectively, to prevent anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. A July 20 letter from a bipartisan group of 150 members of Congress, led by Representative Ted Lieu, has called on the Justice Department to condemn and combat anti-Asian discrimination.

Amid the current reckoning of racial injustice sweeping the US, it is imperative for the federal government to combat all forms of racism and xenophobia. It is not too late to act.

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