I Am Not A Virus: Racism & the Pandemic
TRIGGER WARNING: Racism and Violence.
Normally, I write these blog posts as an ordinary student, whose experiences you may or may not relate to and nothing more.
This post will be different; bear with me. I’m not only writing to you from the perspective of a student or one of your peer’s, but as a (South) East Asian (E/SEA) / Chinese person. I’m not asking or expecting you to be able to relate. I’m simply asking you for some basic respect and for you to hear me out.
This is a post I should have written long ago. If I’m honest, racism is not something I have been made to feel comfortable talking about outside of the walls of my home with my sisters and family. From being told that I’m technically not like other ethnic minority people and having our experiences invalidated, to fighting against standing up or to stand by our strong cultural values of ignore, move on, and stay out of conflict at all costs.
If you are also from an ethnic minority background and attend school in the UK, you may relate to being one of the few (or perhaps the only) BAME pupil(s) in school at some point. You probably also dealt with racist comments and were told to brush them off by people who were completely ignorant at the way that it affects your self-concept and isolates you from your peers.
Maybe, like me, you grew up seeing video after video of people who look like you being verbally and physically abused for sitting on public transport on the way to work simply because of their race. The only thing this taught me is that if you stand back, you’ll risk getting seriously hurt, but if you stand up, you’ll be the one in the wrong for escalating the situation. You can’t win.
I’m very lucky that I’ve not experienced anything more traumatising besides the ignorant playground comments and childish ‘jokes’, random people making racist remarks out in public, being sworn at by grown men on the way back from uni because of my race, and being pinned up against a wall in the school corridor by someone well over a ft taller than I so that they could shout Japanese words at me whilst their friends stood around and laughed.
No one should feel lucky not yet have had to experience extreme verbal or physical harassment. No one should feel like they are waiting for something like that to happen, but that’s the reality.
Coming back to uni in September and in the middle of a pandemic, I was worried about more than the anxieties of pandemic and online learning. Like many E/SEAs, I became even more concerned about racism. I knew that some people would look at me differently. It hurts seeing people smile and walk past several others in front of you in the street like normal, only for them to look at you as if you are literally a virus and cross the road, turn away, or suddenly whip a mask out or pull up a piece of clothing around their face.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has led to a rise in racism. It goes beyond passive forms. I want to firstly draw your attention to just a few of the recent events in the USA that have not yet been widely circulated I the UK. I won’t be posting or linking any video or photos here.
- Vicha Patanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, was forcefully ran into by a 19-year-old who left him lying lifeless in the streets of San Francisco. He died as a result.
- A very similar attack was made on a 91-year-old man in Oakland’s Chinatown, California. He was shoved off the sidewalk. Shortly after, two Asian women in their 50’s and 60’s in the area also fell victims. All three required medical attention.
- In the subway of New York City, Noel Quintana, a Filipino man, confronted someone who was repeatedly kicking his bag and ending up being slashed across the face from cheek to cheek. It was reported that not a single person stopped to help him.
This is not just an issue in the USA, but in the UK too. Last month, Jonathan Mok, a Law student at UCL from Singapore, was beaten up in the streets of Oxford by a group of teenagers after being mocked for being Asian in relation to the coronavirus. There have been reports of ESEA takeaway workers being spat at, and patients refusing treatment from an E/SEA doctor.
Most recently, our Prime Minister released a video to wish a Happy Lunar New Year to communities celebrating, and the things being said in the comment section is unbelievable. You can see a post made about this by Dear Asian Youth, London.
These don’t stop on university campuses. The comments below have been taken from those infamous anonymous university confession pages.
The pandemic is not an excuse to be racist. There is no excuse to be racist, full stop. a) These shouldn’t have been allowed to be posted, and b) We should not be endorsing these kinds of comments. There is a difference between making a joke and saying something that is intended to mock someone or hurt their feelings.
Stop and think for a moment. Imagine sitting in a class, online or in-person, and knowing that some of your peers potentially have opinions like these about you. How is that going to make them feel? How is it going to make any international E/SEA student feel coming onto a UK university campus after seeing these comments.
This is not an argument of free speech. Anyone who took the Warwick Values Moodle Course (i.e., every single Warwick student) will know that there is a difference between free speech and harassment/ discrimination.
Finally, quite a storm has arisen (or rather, has become more apparent) in terms of conflict between Black and ESEA communities as this has been spoken up about more. I’m not here to defend any of that. I’m not standing up to disregard the traumatic experiences of Black people or to make comparisons in any way because whilst every BAME can relate to each other’s experiences to some extent, we also have to acknowledge that people of different ethnicities will experience racism differently.
The comments I’ve seen regarding this issue have hurt me. That people of my race, who know what racism feels like, could turn around and do the exact same thing that hurts us to those who we are meant to support. For that, I’m sorry if you have ever felt and have been target by us. If anything, we should be standing by each other. Certainly, that’s what I, and I should hope many others, will be doing. We should not be forced to choose between one or the other. Beyond the differences, racism is racism.
Please, show some basic respect to your peers and the people within your communities. We’re not here to cause any trouble. We don’t want any trouble. For me, I’m just a university student who’s trying to get a degree because I want to support communities in this country who need that extra support, as much as some of these people may hate me. That leads onto a whole other issue, so I’ll stop there.
For now, three things we can all do:
- Apparently, racism is not a good enough reason to get comments removed from social media, but we can keep reporting them and hopefully things will change.
- As we encourage everyone to do with many issues, listen to people’s experiences of racism and stop invalidating them.
- If you don’t understand why something is hurtful and you are willing to see the other side, please ask. We will have to be patient and understand that you’re trying to learn and that in itself means a lot.
Have conversations and help us to stand up and know that it’s okay to speak out.
There aren’t many resources, especially in the UK, but to start off:
- Dear Asian Youth London (and theUSA version)
- Sky News – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfHdah7GWtA – Interview with Chinese students
- South China Morning Post– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoTpOwFx5u8 – short interview with British Chinese community
- Article by the Independent on ‘How British East and Southeast Asians Are Fighting Racism During the Pandemic’
- Learning for Justice on ‘What Is the Model Minority Myth’ (in a broader/ educational context)
- Dr Krau & Eunice Eun on Anti-Asian Racism Exposes the Model Minority Myth