Content Warning: Anti-Asian racism
I am not a virus.
Yet, of all the words found in the English language, this is the one I find constantly used to describe Asians amid this pandemic. As an adjective, this simple word has the power to reduce an individual to little more than an object of spite. It is a word capable of inciting senseless discrimination against an entire demographic by wrongfully placing blame upon them and associating them with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an Asian living in a time plagued with anti-Asian hate, I find my emotions heightened. I fear for my safety and I feel overwhelming grief for the hurting Asian community.
But above all, I feel outrage.
Outrage at the deafening silence of mainstream media, at the normalized racism and at the amount of energy being wasted on division and hate.
I feel outrage at the fact that I even have to feel these emotions at all.
A NEW NORMAL
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic marked a change for us all. In an instant, the world was forced to adjust to a new normal, characterized by social distancing, isolation and video calls for days on end.
The greatest change for me, however, was the shift in comfort I felt in my own skin.
Prior to the pandemic, I was comfortable with who I was. I felt safe walking around and it never even crossed my mind that I could fall victim to racism in my own community.
However, when the pandemic came into full swing, Asians everywhere were suddenly being used as scapegoats. We were being targeted in hate crimes because of hateful rhetoric and the recurring idea that Asians were viruses.
After waking up day after day to news of new anti-Asian hate crimes, my naivety began to crumble away, and with it, my sense of security.
Seeing Asian individuals constantly targeted in racist attacks tore away at me. In every crime committed against them, I could not help but see my own family and my own friends. The most sickening part of it all is the growing trend of attacking the most vulnerable: our elderly. I think of my own grandparents, who are nothing but gentle, kind and loving. I think of how hard they have worked for my sake, and of all the hardships that they have had to endure to get to where they are, only to fall victim to racial discrimination.
It is terrifying.
Terrifying to think that someone I know could be next. That my family could be next. It hurts me to think that every time something like this happens, it only adds to the growing number of individuals who have also lost their sense of security, or even their lives, due to such sheer irrationality.
It only felt all the more real when it happened to myself.
Being called a slur, being told that I was not welcome in my own country for the first time came as a shock. Although small in scale compared to what others have had to endure, it was enough to open my eyes. It made me realize how real anti-Asian sentiments could be during this time, and how it was not limited to places far away from me. I was not exempt from the very same anti-Asian discrimination occurring around the world, after all.
I have gained a new sense of cautiousness.
Where I would previously walk the streets without a care in the world, I am now more aware of my surroundings. I now find myself being overly skeptical of everyone and everything. I worry about having my mother go out alone on a walk around the block, or to the grocery store. I find myself overcome with relief when someone does the bare minimum and treats me with kindness.
Fear, discomfort and weariness of hate is my “new normal.”
A WAKE-UP CALL
Our Asian elderly have been set on fire, robbed and murdered. Children have been bullied, spat on and called slurs based on their appearance. Will the end of the pandemic truly be enough to end this all? Surely not.
This pandemic did not cause Asian hate — it only further perpetuated it. The fact that the lives of Asians have been equated to a virus, all in the context of hateful rhetoric, is a sign that this is not anything new. This is simply an example of previously suppressed anti-Asian sentiment brought to light.
The discriminatory actions that I bore witness to were my wake-up call that the anti-Asian sentiment is steadily growing and flourishing. The pandemic has allowed it to gain traction, and continue to evolve into the universally prominent devastation that we see today.
It is real, it is here and it needs to come to an end. It is paramount that we learn about, acknowledge and stand up against the virus known as hate that is infecting today’s society.
And just one more thing: I am Asian.
Not your scapegoat, not your model minority and most definitely not a virus.