Essay: Asian American is not a disease

Mahbuba RahatAsia is one of the biggest continents in the world where many different ethnic groups live — not just Chinese. Yet, many Asian Americans are collectively being subjected to racism due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. “There’s a longer history of blaming Asia and Asian migrants and, by extension, Asian Americans for outbreaks of disease. COVID-19 is just the most current example of this history,” Cathy Ceniza Choy told the Berkeley News at the University of California.

Along with the fear of the spread, COVID-19 has also given rise to many racist remarks against and harassment of Asian Americans across the country. President Donald Trump categorized COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” Trump stated at a White House press conference that it could have been stopped in Wuhan, China, where the first case of COVID-19 was discovered. It is not ethical for someone with high authority to criticize a certain group of people.

Katherine Oung, a teenager in Florida, said in a New York Times article: “As the coronavirus spreads, there’s another virus spreading that we need to be talking about” after her classmate said Chinese people are “disgusting” and “dirty.” Many Asian Americans are being bombarded with hate and racist comments from many of their peers and community. Many Asian Americans including those who live in Detroit are anxious about being targeted by coronavirus racism. Last month, the Detroit Free Press reported “an elderly Chinese American had his grocery cart spat on by someone.”

The coronavirus has hit Michigan hard. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as of Monday, May 4, there were 43,950 confirmed cases of the virus in the state, and 4,135 deaths. It is a difficult time for everyone. Many people are feeling frustrated and angry, but it’s important to respect every group when generalizations are being made about certain races.

What is happening now is similar to the hatred Muslims faced after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On that tragic day, all innocent Muslims around the world turned from practicing Islam peacefully to practicing with fear due to somebody else’s actions. That was before I was born, but I still vividly remember the day I learned about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from a newspaper. I remember asking my siblings what they did when this situation was happening and one of them said, “Because of 9/11, we weren’t able to come to the United States early in our life.” 9/11 was transformative for all Muslims, and not in a positive way.

Many Muslims were not only afraid to be their true selves outside of their comfort zone but they also were ashamed to call themselves Muslim. 9/11 is now known as Islamist extremism. Terrorists, rioters, and beggars are just a few words used to describe Muslims. This is exactly the kind of racist behavior that people are exhibiting during the coronavirus outbreak. Associating the name of an incident or a disease with countries, regions, or religions with a certain ethnic group creates a stigma against certain races. Asian Americans are facing mental abuse and are afraid to be themselves.

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said, “The virus is a virus. It does not have a race or ethnicity. We cannot let fear during this uncertain time turn people toward prejudice and hate.” Now is the time for Asian Americans to speak up and educate others. A crisis does not last forever, but its impact is everlasting. Crises give the opportunity to speak and come together strong as a community. Any sort of racism that subjects certain groups can be solved by educating the general public on how to be careful with the words they use. Simply telling people that their ideologies are racist is not going to change any of their perspectives. However, educating them on the ideologies they hold and the effect it can have on another person is crucial to provide as a citizen of a community and country.

Rising Voices of Asian American Families are doing just that. Formed as a nonprofit to promote civic engagement at the electoral and policy level, this organization started a #NoAAPIHate campaign to provide Asian Americans with a platform that allows them to speak out during this pandemic.

Asian-Americans are not a disease. They are human beings, facing the same deadly virus as the rest of the world. We are all in this together.


Mahbuba Rahat is a junior at Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine and lives in Hamtramck.

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