Leaders Are Grappling With Xenophobia and anti-Asian Attacks Amid Coronavirus
Updated: Apr 13
Fear is normal during a pandemic. Racism shouldn’t be.
Written by: Mary Jeneverre Schultz
A rising tide of anti-Asian sentiment is happening across the nation including in Denver and its neighboring cities, as people are looking for scapegoats to blame for the virus.
The motivation could be because the pandemic started in Wuhan, China. Or it could be triggered by President Trump’s public statements referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” Regardless, Asian Americans are being targeted for attacks and hate crimes, which has led to the formation of several hotlines and websites where incidents can be reported. Anecdotes and stories are overwhelming leaders of Asian American communities.
Asian-American leaders recall the government-sponsored discrimination in regards to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese internment in the 1940s. Experts say those events and others contributed to the perpetual foreigner and “Yellow Peril” myths that promoted the false ideas that people with Asian features were disease carriers, a threat to the nation and could never truly become American.
“These stereotypes have been here for decades,” Representative Judy Chu, Democrat of California said. “They’re always kind of underneath the surface. But if there’s some precipitating event, then it can bring it all back out.” Incidents Happening Locally In Aurora and Denver, unnamed individuals posted false comments on Asian restaurants’ Facebook pages claiming that these restaurants were ordering meat from China that carried the virus. When the posts were reported, they were removed by Facebook, but the damage was done. Asian restaurants were already feeling the pinch as diners began avoiding these places.
Local Denver residents were hesitant in sharing their stories of racism. When promised anonymity, they told their stories with great emotions of tears, sadness and anger all at once. While getting her morning coffee, a female resident of Lone Tree was yelled by the Caucasian employee to step back six feet. She backed up out of reflex, and didn’t understand what was going on. After gathering her wits, she observed the employee did not do this to any of the other customers.
Last month, while a college student was jogging, someone ran towards him and pushed him down. Cameras were visible in the intersection but the police officer who assisted him, said the cameras probably did not “capture the whole process.”
The student, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed gratitude that he wasn’t hurt but urged community members to take action. “Please don’t stay silent after a confrontation. It is our responsibility to contribute (to agencies) collecting data point and inform others.” How to Respond to Coronavirus Racism From Teaching Tolerance, it is up to all of us to speak up in response to racist comments. Comments can lead to racist rants, which could lead to violence.
One way to respond is to ‘interrupt.’ It shows the person you’re talking with that what they’ve said is important enough to pause your conversation to address—that you need to talk about the racism before you talk about anything else. Here are a few phrases to try: “Hang on. I want to go back to what you called the virus.” “Just a second—let’s get into your point that the virus is somebody’s fault.”
You can also ask the person a question. “Why did you call it the ‘Chinese Coronavirus’?” Asking someone to explain why a racist joke is funny is a great way to stop them from making racist jokes to you again. But if you want to have a real discussion about what they’ve said, ask “What made you say that?”
If someone doesn’t understand why a comment they made was racist, educate them about the long history of stereotyping immigrants—and Asian people, specifically—as people who bring disease. You can explain how this stereotype is both wrong and harmful. The key to educating is to continue the conversation. If the person tries to play down racist phrases as “just a joke,” you can educate them about the discrimination and racism Asian Americans are facing right now, so they better understand the impact of their words.
Words Matter “We can stop these attacks by stopping the rhetoric that incites these attacks, stopping misinformation about COVID19, showing people the impact of these attacks, and encouraging bystanders to intervene safely when they witness an incident,” said John Yang, the executive director of the Asian American Justice Center.
“COVID19 is a virus; Asians are not special carriers or transmitters of the virus. Toward that end, words matter and names like “Chinese coronavirus” and “Kung-flu” only serve to heighten misinformation and the targeting of the Asian American community.”
1) Report! If you experience or witness a hate crime, report it to one of these websites:
2) Connect with the Asian Pacific Development Center’s Victims Assistance Program. Services include victim compensation funds; crisis counseling; case management and social services; and legal and personal advocacy. Learn more at: apdc.org/victimassistance.
3) Become an engaged citizen by signing petitions to support the creation of a taskforce to investigate these acts of racism. Visit advancingjustice-aajc.org for more information.
4) Learn more the Denver Anti-Discrimination Office (DADO). The office works toward putting an end to discrimination.
5) Show your humanity with small acts of kindness. Connect with Asian Americans during this time, many of whom are scared to leave their homes. If someone is speaking up against racism, echo their sentiments. As the echoing voice, you can reiterate the anti-bias message or you can thank the first person for speaking up—or both!
A Message From Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock
In Denver, we value equity and inclusivity—and we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind.
It’s disheartening to learn that at a time like this—when we should all be coming together to fight a common enemy, COVID-19—that we are hearing increasing reports of people in our Asian community being harassed and targeted for this epidemic. As Mayor of the City and County Denver, I can assure you we will continue to stand up against racism, fear-mongering, and misinformation by supporting and protecting all residents who call Denver home. Let me be clear, harassment and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. Any individual who does commit a bias motivated crime against members of our Asian community will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law under Denver’s Hate Crime Ordinance. The Denver Police Department has a number to call to report bias-motivated crimes. That number is 720-913-6458. If a bias motivated act is happening in real time, call 911. No matter your immigrant status, it is safe to call. To our community partners – join me in standing up against hate and ensuring our community continues to be a welcoming one for every resident. If you see an incident of hate happening, report it. There’s only one way we are all going to get through this, and that’s together. See the Mayor’s video message at fb.com/5280mayor.