WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s insistence on speaking of a “Chinese virus” has a dark historical precedent for some Asian Americans, who say his word choice is fueling an at times violent backlash.
Speaking daily on the global coronavirus pandemic, Trump has incessantly called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” with one photo even showing his notes in which he had crossed out clinical terms preferred by health professionals.
Asian American advocates say that such language plays into centuries-old stereotypes of the community as perpetually foreign and unclean — and signals, incorrectly, that individuals of one ethnicity are responsible for spreading illness.
While US incidents appear to be fewer than in Europe, New York police said that a man last month chased and beat an Asian woman wearing a protective mask on the subway, calling her “diseased.”
On Thursday, civil rights groups launched a site for Asian Americans to report bias crimes linked to the pandemic to see how widespread the problem has become.
The site received 36 submissions in its first 24 hours, said Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.
She pointed to one incident where a middle school bully in the Los Angeles area punched an Asian American classmate in the head some 20 times, accusing him of carrying the coronavirus, and telling him to “go back” to China.
Kulkarni said she saw the violence as part of a wider history in the United States dating back to the “Yellow Peril,” when suspicions about Asians led the United States in 1882 to ban all Chinese immigration.
“I definitely think it will get worse, partly because of the president’s relentless effort for weaponizing hate against communities,” Kulkarni said.
“He has the bully pulpit. With that comes tremendous power. People listen to him,” she said.