Congressman Ted Lieu of California’s 33rd Congressional District authored an op-ed published by The Washington Post on March 18, 2020.
Related: The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) and Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) have launched the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center in response to spreading xenophobia as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have experienced harassment and/or discrimination, visit a3pcon.org/stopaapihate to file a confidential report.
I genuinely want President Trump to succeed in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, and will do everything I can to help him in this effort. At stake are the lives of my elderly parents, my family, my constituents and many Americans. But Trump’s repeated insistence on calling coronavirus the “Chinese virus” is more than just xenophobic; it causes harm both to Asian Americans and to the White House’s response to this life-threatening pandemic. I served on active duty in the U.S. military to defend the right of any American to make politically incorrect statements, but as a public figure, I cannot stand idly by while the president uses his pulpit to exacerbate xenophobia in a time of crisis.
Trump claims that in using the phrase “Chinese virus,” he’s just trying to be “accurate” in describing where it’s from. But there is a difference between saying the virus is from China and saying it is a Chinese virus. In a time of unease and uncertainty, such language stokes xenophobic panic and doesn’t get us closer to eradicating this virus. Asian Americans have been assaulted or otherwise discriminated against because of such rhetoric. In New York, a man assaulted an Asian woman wearing a face mask and called her a “diseased b—h.” Also in New York, a man on the subway sprayed an Asian passenger with Febreze and verbally abused him. On the subway in Los Angeles, a man ranted at an Asian American woman, claiming Chinese people are putrid and responsible for all diseases. (The woman happened to be Thai American.)
Trump’s rhetoric adds fuel to the growing fire of hatred being misdirected at Asian Americans. The fact that he is the president of the United States, who is responsible for the well-being of all Americans, only makes his rhetoric even more disturbing. The leaders of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have warned that we should not use terms such as “Chinese virus.” The novel coronavirus already has an official name, SARS-CoV-2, and an unofficial name, covid-19. Injecting an ethnic qualifier to the virus is unnecessary and can stigmatize Asian Americans.
Against the backdrop of Trump’s unnecessary language lies the history of discrimination against Asian Americans in our country. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to the internment camps of World War II to the murder of Vincent Chin, Asian Americans are particularly susceptible to being discriminated against by the mistaken belief that we somehow are foreigners or have foreign ties.