The greatest plague in America: Racism
The recent murder of eight people, six Asian-American women, one white woman and one white man, was utterly despicable, as was the reason the killer gave that he is a sex addict and saw such women as temptations that he wanted to get out of his way. When asked in an interview if these murders were hate crimes, Keisha Lance Bottoms, mayor of Atlanta, said, “This was targeted at Asian spas. Six of the women who were killed were Asian, so it’s difficult to see it as anything but that.” (Both the FBI and Georgia law define a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”)
COVID has created an unimaginable crisis for people across the world. COVID has caused job loss, housing loss, food insecurity, social loss, extraordinary and resented limits to our sense of freedom and mobility, and far, far too many deaths. In fact, America leads the world in the death toll from the disease. As a result, people have felt a loss of control and a sense of overwhelming helplessness, despair, and frustration, feelings that all too often turn into rage that unjustifiably seeks an enemy, someone or something to blame. Yet, among all the millions of people who share these feelings, only racists choose to vent their rage on a minority and attack them violently in word and deed, spreading misinformation and false accusations to justify their own abhorrent racist behavior and attitudes.
Over this past year, Asian-American-owned stores have been vandalized; people have been spat on in grocery stores, punched in the streets, threatened by verbal insults; elderly Asian women have been physically attacked. Captain Jay Baker, when speaking about the killer, said matter-of-factly “…yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” Captain Baker’s Facebook page shows posts supporting shirts saying “Imported virus fro Chy-na.” Asian-Americans, particularly women, have reported being afraid to be out on the streets alone, particularly at night. Asian-Americans have been told to get back to their country, an irony coming from anyone other than Native Americans who are the only people originally from this country.
In May, a Human Rights Watch report noted that the use of racial slurs like “Chinese virus,” “Kung flu” or the “Wuhan virus” likely exacerbated this uptick of hate, even as the disease was spreading rapidly, causing devastation in its wake. Media platforms and politicians used derogatory language, and on social media, hateful speech against Asian-Americans was escalating exponentially. Asian-American and Pacific Islander Initiative reported a 150 percent increase in attacks against Asian-Americans over the year since COVID began.
During times of crisis, positive leadership becomes especially critical. Through both example and words, good leadership demands and seeks solutions, rather than spewing and supporting hateful incriminations. Good leadership works toward ensuring the safety of its citizens, not endangering them. Good leadership works on creating unity rather than instigating divisiveness. Good leadership promotes goodness rather than hate. Good leadership speaks to our better selves, not our worst; it challenges us to help rather than hurt, to stand with others rather than against, to mourn for all the losses, everyone’s pain and fear, not just our own.
And what about us? While the character of our leaders is important, ours is even more so. Standing on the side of hate and racism does not lessen a crisis or make us more powerful during it. It never has. If nothing else can prove that point, COVID can. Regardless of skin color or religious belief, whether from China or Italy or Mexico, whether first generation immigrants or fifth generation, whether living in the north or south, east or west - we are all Americans, we are all human beings, and we have all been leveled by this devastating disease. Spending our energy casting stones or wielding weapons against others has no effect on COVID. It is a powerfully impersonal and non-political virus.
Asian-Americans are not the cause of this virus; they are victims of it just as everyone else is. Targeting them just shows our smallness, our lack of courage and strength in the face of adversity. Racism and hatred directed at anyone, any people we deem as “other,” be they Black, Brown, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, reveals now, as it has historically done, more about our own weakness, our own insecurity, our own inhumanity than it reveals any inherent fault in those we target and oppress.
The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice condemns all violence toward all people and will continue to work against the systemic racism that is the greatest plague of our country.