As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate so does racial tensions towards the Asian and Chinese communities.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 strain began in the city of Wuhan, which is the capital of central China’s Hubei province. That alone has become the grounds many people stand on for justifying slander toward the Asian community, including demeaning language from President Donald Trump.
During a White House press conference on March 18, Trump was asked why he refers to the virus as the “Chinese Virus” despite criticism that it is racist and offensive.
“It’s not racist at all, not at all no,” Trump said. “It comes from China- that’s why; I want to be accurate.”
He went further later in the press conference. “I have great love for all of the people from our country, but as you know China tried to say at one point, maybe they’ve stopped now, that it was it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen. It's not going to happen, not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.”
The COVID-19 strain did start in China; however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are many types of coronaviruses. COVID-19 is only one of the viruses in this family, which also includes MERS and SARS.
However, there are still many people who are repeating the president’s “Chinese Virus” term, and some have started calling it the “Kung-Flu.”
Savannah State University Assistant Professor Ziyuan Zhou, who holds a Ph.D. in communications, lived in China during the SARS outbreak several years ago.
“I believe referring to coronavirus as “Chinese Virus” is offensive to the Asian population in the U.S. The connotation of ‘“Chinese’ is very complex in the U.S. context. It could refer to Chinese government, Chinese citizens, Chinese-Americans or anyone who looks like Chinese. When people first knew the virus, it did have an official name so using ‘Chinese Virus’ or ‘Wuhan Virus’ was acceptable. However, since [the World Health Organization] has already named the virus as ‘COVID-19’ or ‘coronavirus,’ I don’t see any reason to keep using the initial name. It only causes more confusion and hatred.”
Many United States citizens share the same frustrations as Zhou. A Chinese woman was attacked in New York City after a man loudly called her “diseased.” The woman was repeatedly punched in the face and her head seemed to be bashed into the wall, based on a video posted by the New York Police Department on Twitter.
Celebrity TV personality and The Real co-host Jeanie Mai told People Magazine, “Viruses don’t discriminate against people with different racial backgrounds but clearly people can. This strain of coronavirus may be new but anti-Asian sentiment clearly isn’t. We should know that racism morosely runs within deep within our American fibers. When anti-Asian attitudes remain, it can only take a little event such as a politician’s rhetoric, calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus or kung fu flu or the initiation of hate to bring bullying and harassment back out into the open.”
Mai has also been a supporter of the hashtag and social media campaign #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus which translates to “ I am not a virus.” Zhou said a better message would be, “Together we win, divided we lose.”