At the start of the COVID-19 frenzy, two friends asked me whether I had experienced any xenophobia because of the pandemic. I told them that as of yet, I had not. People had been respectful.
I’m writing this now almost four months into COVID, and I still have to say that I have still only experienced a fair level of respect from anyone I’ve encountered. I’m very grateful for it.
One may wonder if I as an Asian American have become more aware or paranoid of any signs of mistreatment or racism when interacting with people because of these times and the Black Lives Matter movement. Honestly, I have been a bit more sensitive. I can’t help to be a little nervous or scared each time I interact with someone or walk near them while shopping or taking a socially distant walk.
At the same time, I’ve also chose to be more mindful of when people are awesome and respectful to me, something many ignore. And I have to say I’m so appreciative of the kindness that I do experience. Those are the memories that stick with me and the frequency of positivity usually far encompasses negative in-person experiences.
I remember once when I exited a Weis, I was thanked warmly by a smiling African American greeter and told to be safe. I’ve encountered various shoppers and cashiers during that time, and they’ve all been very friendly to me.
Simple acts of respect and camaraderie warm my heart. Just the other day, a shopper asked me to help spray down the handles of his car as I sprayed mine. He asked, “Can you spray mine too, brother?”
I just got the sense that race didn’t or barely crossed his mind. He just saw me as another American trying to get by. I don’t have to mention every story I’ve experienced because you get the point.
If anything, people usually have less fear about safety than I do sometimes. I’ve seen plenty of people pass me that don’t mind walking less than two feet from me while shopping. I’m often the one who has to keep the distance for safety.
I’ve only encountered negative experiences not related to my race. Recently, a lady snarled at me to not cut in line when I was maneuvering my cart through BJ’s. I wasn’t trying to cut in line, but by the time I had tried explain, she had already strided away.
Just a couple weeks ago, an anonymous user told me to eat fried rice and shut up. It was hurtful and it wasn’t right. I was upset that people steal found this okay or cool because it isn’t cool. It doesn’t make you look good. And it needs to change so that people don’t feel like a good person when they do stuff like that because it doesn’t make you a good person.
The internet allows you to hide behind anonymity. But we need to teach our children and our peers that this type of behavior isn’t right. Even in person, I’ve experienced it is well. I recently shared a story with some friends about how he Hispanic coworker had treated me horribly a few years ago by asking me if I eat rice over and over without responding to my words. It was disrespectful and upsetting that another minority was disrespecting me. you would expect him in a minority who has experienced racism to know better than to do the same. But I guess not. And that goes to show you that racism bleeds through too many different cultures, countries, and ethnicities.
Of course, I’m not saying that racism isn’t there, because it is. And I’m not saying that I’ve never experienced it. There is room for improvement. Where I do see news about xenophobia is on the internet. Every now and then, I’ll see you an Asian influencer, friend on social media, or news site mention some act of racism because of coronavirus. Usually, it’s in a big city or on a different country.
I saw a story by site called NextShark about some Asian who got kicked in the face in New Zealand because the locals thought he contributed to the creation of COVID-19. Apparently, this kid was Korean, but the group of guys who attacked mistook him as Chinese. This article sparked a good amount of outrage and engagement. These people didn’t even consider that he wasn’t from the same country!
I thought this was horrible, yet I was skeptical about the validity of the story since NextShark often puts out crappie stories and stretches the truth. The Instagram profile of the guy who was supposedly kicked in the face had no mention of the attack. And the video footage of the kick showed no indication that it had anything to do with racism since there was basically no audio.
Regardless, other stories out there seem valid. There are definitely people who are being rude, sometimes borderline offensive to people because of their race. The idea of jumping to conclusions and assuming someone has a virus just because they’re Asian is such a stretch. They may not have even visited China for several years. Plus, just because you came from a country with 1.4 billion people doesn’t mean you were responsible for bio-engineering a virus that started from a tiny area of the country.
If I were to use empathy, I’d say it’s somewhat rational to be careful around someone you know came from an infected country recently. But we should investigate first, and be civil.
What isn’t cool is jumping to conclusions, being barbaric, and blaming anyone who looks a certain way. First off, pandemics can come from many different areas. The Spanish Flu and the Bubonic plague, which were much more deadly and contagious, didn’t originate from China. And I’m not going to stoop to the level of being disrespectful to anyone of Hispanic descent if the pandemic came from a Latin country.
To make such a leap to a conclusion implies that they did think much about it, aren’t intelligent, or that they assume that people of the general population of a country can contribute to intentionally manufacturing the virus for advanced bio-warfare. From my research, I don’t even think bio-ware is as easy as you think. It’s very difficult, and scientists have said that nature is still by far the best bio-ware manufacturer (In layman’s terms: that means, you just let Mother Nature do the work, and it’ll find a virus).
I mean I don’t need to give more reasons why this is unjust and unfair since you’re smart and can probably figure it out yourself.
The recent BLM movement has bonded us together and raised more awareness and attention about racism and unjust behavior. While there are systemic problems that we’ll have to address, it’s opened my eyes to how many people who do care. It’s also got me a little more interested in politics, and I’ll be doing my part to vote locally since that will do the most good.
Of course, we still have a long way to go, but we’ve come far. I’m optimistic for a future, but we need to continue fighting in effective, respectful ways and spreading awareness. If you look for the good rather than the bad sometimes, you’ll notice that most people are actually cool and respectful. Don’t let one bad seed make you throw out the whole barrel of apples. I’m emphasizing that point because many of the Asians I see online who complain about this get toxic and just forget everything else by letting one negative event destroy their whole perspective on people.
I’m appreciative of the people who understand the importance of respecting other races, and I have fond memories of people of all different colors where every interaction I’ve had with them has been positive. Those are the people we should champion, support, and applaud. There’s also a lot of value in cultivating and growing the good versus only belaboring the bad.
October 2020 Update:
I want to provide an update a couple months later as I’ve gotten more life experiences during the pandemic. Fear has settled down, and many people are now relaxed about the virus. I still hold my thoughts from before: the vast majority of people have remained respectful to me. The most I’ve seen is some shyness and fear of getting to close. There are occasional frowns when someone sees me without a mask briefly, but that might just be me reading into my own insecurity about it since I see so many people aren’t wearing masks.
I’m still grateful for the respect and lack of hatred or bias towards me. It just goes to show that it’s not all bad like the Internet sometimes makes you think (and that’s partially because negative news goes viral more than positive news). Of course, we should still encourage people to be respectful since it obviously still exists in other regions of the world and the country, but it doesn’t mean we should cast a wide net and label everyone as xenophobic or out to get Asians (as that’s untrue and we’d be continuing the cycle of assumptions).
If anything, a some people are less fearful than I am, getting closer to me or touching more than I’d feel comfortable (high-five’s, fist bumps, handshakes, etc.) and not wearing masks. I have to work on speaking out because sometimes, I just go with it since I don’t want to offend them by saying I don’t want to touch them.