Why We Must Stop Making COVID-19 About Race

If I were a cartoon character, I would’ve had steam coming out of my ears as my eyes popped in-and-out. But in real life, I just stood there in total shock, unable to believe what I just saw.

In March, my wife and I went out for our daily, socially distanced walk. Living in downtown Seattle with about 900 square feet to share has been fun in this time of quarantine, and as we already live in an area lacking Vitamin D, these daily walks to Lake Union have kept our sanity intact. Crossing streets while staying at least six feet away from others has been a hilariously frustrating, Frogger-esque game. On our way home, I remember we swung way out into the road to avoid another couple standing at the corner. But as we walked up the block away from that corner, tires screeched on the pavement. As the roads are eerily quiet these days, it was loud. Really loud. We turned around to see a car pull up so close to the street corner that it nearly curbed. The passenger window rolled down and a man shouted, “F*** you!” at the couple as the car quickly sped off. Why were they targeted? It was pretty clear that it was because they were Asian.

The couple stood there for a moment, frozen. And then briskly walked across the street. A million things raced through my brain. Should I run back to them and tell them that I love them and that I’m so sorry and that this isn’t the Seattle I know? No. They would probably just see another white person rushing them. And – not race-related – my wife and I are all too familiar with being yelled at and approached in violent ways as an LGBTQ couple, so I assumed I probably shouldn’t try to yell at the couple from so far away. But, when I got home, I felt so ashamed for just being a passive bystander. I didn’t know what I should have done, but I knew I had to do something.

stopping the spread of racism during covid-19
Photo courtesy of Jon Tyson / Unsplash

We all have to do something. Because these stories have been popping up everywhere across the country for months now. In San Francisco, another town known for its large Asian American population, a young woman was spit on while waiting at a crosswalk. And in Chicago, before the city’s shelter-in-place edict, some businesses had signs “forbidding people who have recently visited China to step through the door.

It’s not hard to find the fan fueling this racist fire. Since the early days of this outbreak, our president has repeatedly called the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” and the “China Virus,” stigmatizing Chinese-Americans. White House officials have referred to COVID-19 as the “Kung-flu.

At the onset of the outbreak, Americans wasted time fearing the Chinese when, in fact, this virus knows no race. And, instead of pointing fingers, other countries responded by doing something. United Nations representative Mohamad Safa tweeted an exchange that went viral because of its heartfelt, sobering truth. The tweet reads: “China sent medical masks to Italy, and wrote on the boxes a quote of a Roman poem: ‘We are waves from the same sea.’ Japan had donated supplies to China, and wrote on the boxes a quote of a Chinese poem: ‘We have different mountains and rivers, but we share the same sun, moon and sky.’”

We’re all in this together. So how do we help our Asian-American neighbors? One of the easiest ways is by donating to racial justice groups online such as the Asian American Justice Center or the American Civil Liberties Union. Order take-out or delivery from your local Chinese restaurants and cafes. And if you don’t have the financial means, there are incredibly powerful campaigns against racism that you can share on social media such as the Stop the Spread campaign. The video, produced by the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, features two people in hazmat suits passing out hand sanitizer presumably for COVID-19, but it’s actually about sanitizing stigma. The bottle label states that the active ingredient is “acceptance” and the directions read, “Apply liberally to alleviate irrational fear and prejudice.” It’s clever, gut-wrenching and the exact message we need to spread during these times.

I’ve tweeted and donated, but I still wish I could go back to that moment with the couple on the corner and do something. But I’m doing something now – even if it’s just ordering a lot of take-out and politely-but-firmly cutting off remarks when I hear them. I hope these micro actions add up to combat this wave of racism because we are all “waves from the same sea.”

More from Better:

Deanne Revel HeadshotDeanne Revel is a travel journalist and host in Seattle, WA. She is passionate about LGBTQ rights, mental health and a proud supporter of The Trevor Project. When not on assignment, you can find her exploring National Parks or theme parks with her wife. Follow her adventures on Instagram @revelandroam.

  Who We Are       NFP Support       Magazine       Programs       Donate