In the simplest of words, the novel coronavirus has brought the entire world down to its knees. People are suffering all over the world, whether it is because of the disease itself or because of the quarantines that have been imposed to prevent its spread. In a way, the coronavirus has divide people into two distinct groups: the kind, and the not-so-kind.
Technically, everyone has become an opportunist these days. Some people are taking the opportunity to kindly offer support and consolation to those affected — but others are actively trying to fuel their political agendas, making full use of the opportunity provided by the deadly outbreak to do so.
In a recent press conference, President Donald Trump was questioned by a group of journalists on his repeated use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” to refer to the deadly virus responsible for COVID-19, which some might find to be racist and xenophobic. What he said in response, as usual, left Twitter raging and people debating.
“Because it comes from China,” he remarked, interrupting journalist Cecilia Vega. “It’s not racist at all!”
Close up of President @realDonaldTrump notes is seen where he crossed out "Corona" and replaced it with "Chinese" Virus as he speaks with his coronavirus task force today at the White House. #trump #trumpnotes pic.twitter.com/kVw9yrPPeJ
— Jabin Botsford (@jabinbotsford) March 19, 2020
“I think they probably would agree with it a hundred percent. It comes from China,” he said, responding to journalist Yamiche Alcindor, who asked Trump whether he thinks using the term would put Asian Americans at risk of hate crimes.
Here at Affinity, we put Trump’s theory that Asian Americans agree with him a “hundred percent,” to a little test. I talked to three Asian American high school students and asked them to share their thoughts on this.
Phyllis Feng, Ohio
Among the Chinese-Americans who do not think that “Chinese Virus” is a suitable term to describe the coronavirus is Phyllis Feng, a high school junior from southwest Ohio.
“With the incredibly strained relationship America is experiencing right now with China, I find it doubtful — almost unbelievable — that Trump has no malevolent intent in using ‘Chinese Virus’ rather than the designated scientific terms. In the political arena, every person’s words must be received as deliberate and calculated, so I believe Trump has a motive for using ‘Chinese Virus,’ which is to cast even more anger towards China.”
Feng grew up having much connection with her Chinese culture, but she always considered herself an American first. When I asked her if she agrees with the president on his remarks, she said that she did, but only on the barest, surface-level extent.
“At face value, yes, I cannot deny that the virus originated and proliferated in Wuhan, China. But ‘Chinese Virus’ is burdened by a president notorious for past racist remarks, as well as the cascade of vitriol [and/or] physical assaults targeting Asian-Americans. I believe that nobody, not in this contemporary world, can afford to view everything from a black-and-white perspective — not when there are a million shades of gray that must be accounted for.”
Detailing her experiences during the past days as an Asian-American, she said that “thankfully,” she didn’t experience any Sinophobic events, but “perhaps that’s due to the fact that my school was shut down and I retreated into self-quarantine before any incidents could take place.”
“However,” she continued, “I have noticed some tension appearing in my friendships with my non-Asian classmates. This time has exposed some parts about them that I’ve never encountered before, and probably parts about me they’ve never [ever] seen. I am trying to put myself in their shoes and understand that China is seen as America’s number one public enemy, and that’s what they’ve been conditioned to believe. But it’s difficult to reconcile their beliefs with who I thought they were. It’s even more devastating to me than if a stranger yelled a slur at me.”
Alice Ao, Georgia
The next person who agreed to talk to me regarding the issue is the Atlanta-based Alice Ao – a second-generation Chinese American student and an Arts & Culture editor at Affinity Magazine.
Ao, unlike Feng, doesn’t consider the label ‘Chinese Virus’ to be outright racist. “I wouldn’t call it outright “racist,” but the term “Chinese virus” definitely has some racist and xenophobic undertones.”
She said that she considered the label to be one of Trump’s political tactics. “He’s trying to shift all culpability for his poor handling of the virus to the Chinese government, and it’s scary how he’s trying to make scapegoats out of an entire ethnicity.” Ao thinks that President Trump carries a responsibility to encourage America to stay optimistic and united and encourage all Americans to work together to combat the pandemic. “And sadly, his rhetoric, a rhetoric that breeds fear and misinformation, is preventing him from doing so,” she continues.
Upon being asked if she agreed with Trump as a Chinese American, she said that she didn’t.
“I don’t agree with him at all. And I think that most Chinese Americans don’t either. However, I do know that there are a good number of Chinese Americans who are angry at how the Chinese government handled the outbreak by silencing whistleblowers and resorting to extreme tactics to control the virus. Trump’s claim that the Chinese government did a poor job of handling coronavirus is valid, but the way he’s addressing it is just awful.”
When asked about whether she thinks his comments add to the xenophobia reported by Asian-Americans throughout the United States, she said, “I do think that Trump’s remarks are only exacerbating the racist and xenophobic attitudes towards Chinese Americans. Words have an impact, especially when they’re coming from the most powerful man in America.”
Katie Liu, California
Katie Liu is a Chinese American high school senior and second-generation immigrant in the US.
Though Liu does not consider Trump’s remarks or his refusal to accept that it might be hurtful toward Chinese American communities to be racist, she also thinks it does nothing constructive either. “I think that it does nothing constructive to assign nationalities to illnesses, especially the coronavirus, which has proven that it does not discriminate across borders at all,” she explains. ‘This only serves to alienate Chinese Americans further in a time when anti-Asian violence and sentiments are on the rise again, and insinuates that Chinese people are in some way responsible for what has happened with the pandemic.”
Liu thinks that it is “despicable” for him to drag in minority groups just to prove a point, without any regard for how his actions are actually affecting them. ‘I believe he clearly has no understanding of the struggles that Asian communities are facing during this crisis. He has no place to speak for us,’ she continued.
Liu said that the president ‘sets the tone for the rest of the country, and by doing so, she thinks “he essentially condones the alienation and fear of [the] Asian American. There are people calling the virus worse names, like the ‘Ching Chong Virus’ or the ‘Kung-Flu’ and it truly upsets me to see the President, someone who is supposed to unite and guide the nation during times like this, not doing anything to correct these behaviors – and [that] he himself refuses to see the wrong in them.”
Featured image via Wikimedia