Although racism targeting Asian populations is not new, reports of such racism typically consisted of ignorant and microaggressive comments such as: “you must be smart,” or “you have small eyes”; and whether through an identity crisis or realizing that they were white-washed, many Asian students developed tough skin as their lives progressed. However, after the coronavirus outbreak, there was a big shift in attitude towards Asians all over the world. Before people would ask “Are you Chinese?” out of ignorance and curiosity, simply because they lacked better words to ask what ethnicity you are, but now when someone asks “Are you Chinese?” it comes from a place of fear and contempt. Racism towards Asians went from a pressure of assimilating to a genuine fear and hatred towards Asians and Asian countries. People’s contempt for Asians is not new, they are only just now expressing their hate for Asians, which may or may not have been in their underlying feelings before the outbreak; using the epidemic as an excuse to outwardly present these feelings of animosity. This epidemic is a time of such grief and pain for families in China. They’ve lost jobs, social interaction, safety, and lives of loved ones. Their entire lives have been flipped upside down, the last thing they need to hear hateful and discriminatory words.
In order to voice the stories of those within our community, we’ve asked our fellow classmates and peers to share their experiences with racism during the corona outbreak.
Sally Park (Tel Aviv) NYU Shanghai ‘23
Growing up in a dominantly white community, I’m very used to ignorant and microaggressive comments, and I think I speak for most Asians when I say that we know how to deal with those comments. The thing is we’ve all been oppressed with the model minority. We get used to the jokes, we learn to respectfully correct people, and we go on with our lives with the hope that people are simply ignorant because ignorance is forgivable, but indifference is not. As human beings, ignorance is an innate characteristic, but we hope to learn and listen and try our best to make the world better. We’ve all obliviously and embarrassingly said offensive things, and so I’ve never taken comments like “Are you Chinese?” as offensive until now. Now, because the Shanghai campus has closed, I am studying in Tel Aviv, Israel, and I love everything about this city and campus: the professors, the students, the culture, the beach, the food, etc., and if it wasn’t for the coronavirus outbreak, my experience studying away at Tel Aviv would have been truly perfect.
To the couple who told the flight attendant to have their seats moved away from me on the airplane, to all the taxi drivers who refused to take me after one glance at me, to the multiple men who have harassed me with their bitter laughter and shouts of “Hey, Corona! Corona, corona, corona!,” to the people who covered their noses with their shirts when I walked by, to the people who made it hard for me to go outside without fear, I hope you learn. I implore you to look inside yourself and realize that you are not funny when you say those hateful comments, you are simply being crude and hurtful to an eighteen-year-old student who is trying to get through the day without hearing a racist comment.
Please, stop using the coronavirus as an excuse to physically or emotionally hurt Asians. Over the last couple of months, we’ve done nothing different in living our lives, yet the way we live our lives has drastically changed. Though we’ve done nothing to deserve looks of fear or disgust, we receive them. Asians have been beaten, spat on, and harassed, and so we rightfully and forcibly are now living in fear, yet people question why we’re the ones who are fearful when it’s “you guys who started the problem.”
Kimmy (Tel Aviv) NYU ‘22
Kimmy arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and was immediately faced with the reality of how she would be treated in Tel Aviv. When trying to find a taxi to take her from the airport to dorms, no taxi driver would take her because she is Asian. The airport worker had to argue with a driver to finally take her to the dorms. Kimmy stated that she definitely has felt a huge change in racism towards Asians after the virus as before she was not afraid and was able to brush off insensitive comments, but now is fearful whenever men yell things out to her on the streets.
Avelyn (Tel Aviv) NYU ‘22
Avelyn was always used to people yelling “Ni Hao” on the streets and grew up experiencing microaggressions, but ever since the coronavirus outbreak, she’s found herself unsafe, on guard, and unable to live her life as she normally would. She said “I can handle being harassed by men yelling corona on the streets,” but two experiences stuck with her. First, a man yelled out “Taiwan number one!” to her, implying that he prefers Taiwanese people over Chinese. Avelyn said that she hadn’t experienced such pure racism towards Asians in a while. For the longest time now, discrimination towards Asians was declining, but it has spiked up again as she has received comments as such that reflect pure hatred. Second, when Avelyn booked an Airbnb in Tel Aviv, the host sent her a message saying that they cannot host her because she is Asian, that the neighbors will not be okay with an Asian staying in the complex due to corona. Avelyn stated that she has mixed feelings about this whole situation: anger, guilt, hurt, and confusion. She finds herself angry at the people who have expressed such hateful things to Asians, somehow guilty for making people feel unsafe about the virus as she understands the seriousness of the virus spreading, but hurt as she’s done nothing wrong, and so confused about how people could be so hurtful. People have strayed away from the topic of safety from the virus and have made this a problem about China’s government and who to blame when really this should be about how to make everyone, no matter their race or ethnicity or location, feel safe. “Though I don’t mind biting my tongue in the store to make sure I don’t sneeze, and though I’ve tried my best to stay calm and unaffected, what I really can’t accept is the violence: seeing people get beat up and physically attacked is not okay. I can deal with the fact that I don’t go outside as much anymore, simply because I don’t want to deal with another comment, but it is so concerning to see people be physically attacked.”
“I see a lot of ‘don’t judge the book by its cover’ since a lot of the victims aren’t Asian, and some have never even been in China, but that’s not the point. I feel like that implies that it is right for people to attack those who are from China or Korea. But it’s not. As a Korean citizen, I am as cautious as I can be, I am as aware as I can be. I’m really even sorry about it. But yet it’s a virus that we are dealing with here. It spreads. We are living in a globalized world where people can travel around the world within a day. We are taught to embrace this generation of globalization and each country takes advantage of it in their own way, whether it is tourism, trading, or globalizing their market. Through these, frequent traveling took place many years ago and as contagious it can be, many nations are suffering under this virus. China didn’t lead an army of infected people to travel all around the world to bring an end to Earth. Everyone and every nation is doing their best to save citizens and stop this virus. And if we were to measure the difficulty people are going through (which I shouldn’t) I must say Asian countries, and recently European countries, are struggling much more. The world should show sympathy and concern, not violence and hate.
NYU Shanghai Student ‘22
Another NYU Student, who chose to remain anonymous, reported getting a direct death threat on social media. This social media medium was a dating app, used to meet new people and form connections. Instead, it has become yet another platform for people to spread hate and racism. After arriving at his new site, this student logged onto the app, checked his messages, and saw the vicious words of “Respond Chinese virus” followed by “Die bitch.” When reaching out to the student, he told us that it’s easier to brush off comments on this app than those made in person, but that this relation does not make them any less scary. The usage of the word “die” resonates much more strongly than the simple word of “corona,” but regardless both take aim at his Asian ethnicity. When asked about his day to day life at his new site, he says the racism he faces is less severe than that of his female counterparts. We also asked him how racism has changed prior and post COVID-19, he responded, with “the mode of oppression has changed, whereas the racism in itself has not.”
In addition to these four students who we have had the opportunity to reach out to, there have been many more told and untold stories of students who have been put in similar, or worse, situations. Reports of students in New York being isolated on the subway, to getting spit on as they walk down the street. On an even bigger scale, multiple instances have been recorded of Chinese people getting brutally attacked on the streets of London, New York, and abroad. These instances show how too many students, and Asians globally, have had to grow accustomed to a new challenge posed by COVID-19. In addition to the dislocation, the online classes, and the stress of a new site, Asian students must also deal with racism.
This article was written by Isabella Cuellar and Sally Park. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Isabella Cuellar and Sally Park