By: Tianyang Liu
As the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for a little over a year now, I would like to first remind everyone to stay safe, wear masks and wash our hands. It is critical that we still encourage safety measures, even if we are vaccinated and in person. The topic discussed in this short essay will be on anti-Asian racism and the effects it has had on the Asian community.
Recently, the Asian community has experienced some successes in the aspects of pop culture with Shang Chi, Squid Game, K-pop and various Asian beauty products making large impacts across the globe. Despite this success and reputation boost for the Asian community, we cannot forget the hate and discrimination Asians have faced throughout history, particularly during this past year and how that has affected the Asian community. Anti-Asian sentiment was reignited last December, when the first cases of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus arrived in North America. Almost immediately, the Asian community was berated and assaulted by people looking for something to blame for the state of the world.
It did not help that government officials from various countries including the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, and France were making statements that either directly or indirectly hinted towards incitement and/or encouragement of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. In Italy, one governor told journalists that Italians would be better at dealing with the virus than the Chinese because of their “culturally strong attention to hygiene, washing hands, taking showers, whereas we have all seen the Chinese eating mice alive.” (Human Rights Watch). Among these negative statements, the most famous has been the term “Chinese virus” used by Trump. These statements made by professional government officials and leaders spurred even harsher attacks against the Asian community.
Since the initial outbreak in November 2019, people of Asian descent have been subjected to derogatory language in public, social media, and government reports all around the world. The community has been the victim of physical attacks and racist actions that all lead back to the virus. There have been cases of violent threats in the UK and Australia, while reports of serious attacks spread through Spain and the United States. (Human Rights Watch) Canada is not an exception. Since the pandemic started, there have been over 1128 cases of attacks against Asians reported, with many more unknown. (Katherine Lee).
How do Asians feel about these racist acts and threats directed at them? Research from Alice Chen, Arminée Kazanjian and Hubert Wong discuss how individuals of Asian descent find it harder to seek help for mental illness. This is due to cultural biases and perceptions of the system along with pressures to save face and endure. There are fewer sensitive approaches to mental health in Asian culture, leading many people to experience confusion and doubt in the face of blatant and violent discrimination within their neighborhoods. Many individuals of Asian descent already have a hard time staying quiet about mental illness, and anti-Asian racism only amplifies that. Psychologist Helen Hsu has previous stated in an interview that “I’ve heard a lot of Asian patients say things like, ‘Well, my family said to work hard and stay quiet, then everything will be fine.’” (Katherine Lee). Societal pressures are also what drives those who are a part of the Asian community to stay silent about their struggles. In her article, Katherine Lee writes that Asians are among the wealthier racialized communities and are considered the model minority by the West. Due to these perceptions and beliefs, many people in the West don’t believe Asians are struggling and consider their mental health issues “a false narrative”.
Despite the recent success associated with various Asian entertainment groups and trends, we cannot forget the extreme amounts of anti-Asian racism that have been occurring since the outbreak of the virus. Some ways we can stop this racism today include educating yourself about the history of racism in the Asian community, providing resources to victims of violence, addressing mental health in racialized communities, and donating to various non-profitable organizations such as The Asian Mental Health Project.
Lee, Katherine. “Asian Pop Culture May Be Trending, but so Is Anti-Asian Racism and Discrimination.” The Conversation, October 29, 2021. https://theconversation.com/asian-pop-culture-may-be-trending-but-so-is-anti-asian-racism-and-discrimination-169903.
“Covid-19 Fueling Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia Worldwide.” Human Rights Watch, May 12, 2020. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/12/covid-19-fueling-anti-asian-racism-and-xenophobia-worldwide#.
Chen, Alice W., et al. “Why Do Chinese Canadians Not Consult Mental Health Services: Health Status, Language or Culture?” Transcultural Psychiatry, vol. 46, no. 4, Dec. 2009, pp. 623–641, doi:10.1177/1363461509351374.
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