Anti-Asian Racism: The thing spreading faster than COVID-19

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Michi Suazo, Contributing Writer

It is Friday afternoon. I clock into work but not two minutes have passed before my white coworker asks me if I have the coronavirus.

I smile and try to laugh it off and think to myself that they’re just joking. Two months prior to the outbreak, my white coworkers laughed behind me in the office, joking about Chinese soups “made with babies.” Even then, I tried to laugh that off too and thought to myself that they’re not being serious. Then, they asked a question, “Hey Michi, what’s your nationality?”

I told them that I’m Filipino. This question echoes during this pandemic. I think about how I’m lucky that I’m not Chinese, that I won’t be targeted like that Asian woman wearing a mask who was attacked in the subway and that Asian man sprayed in the face with Febreze because I’m Filipino.

I assure myself that I’ll be fine amidst the increase in Sinophobia (Fear of or contempt for China, its people, or its culture) as the coronavirus spreads to more and more countries. I lull myself into a sense of safety and security until I come across articles about Filipinos being attacked because people mistook them as Chinese. Then I realize that the jokes of my white coworkers are only funny to them because it doesn’t, and never has, affected them. They’re making jokes at my expense.

Khloe Sison, a Filipina who works at a pizza store in Milan, was hit in the head by an Italian man on her way home from work. Another unnamed Filipino man was punched in the face by an Italian man in a grocery store. But why stop there? Why am I so ready to accept hate crimes as long as it doesn’t happen to me and people with the same ethnicity as me? Why am I taking comfort in the increase of Sinophobia when other non-Chinese Asians are also experiencing hate crimes? I could have been Jonathan Mok, a Singaporean man attacked by four men in London. I could have been Jiye Seong-Yu, a Korean woman who lives in the Netherlands, who was harassed by men at night.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many places worldwide declare a state of emergency but no one, Asian or non-Asian, is justified in acting out their racism because of this virus. The coronavirus is not an excuse for anyone to act on their prejudices. This virus does not discriminate and hate crimes will not help with finding a cure.