Thomas K. LewAs an Asian American growing up in the United States, I experienced frequent insensitive racial questions: Do you know kung fu? Why ar
Thomas K. Lew
As an Asian American growing up in the United States, I experienced frequent insensitive racial questions: Do you know kung fu? Why are your eyes like that? Where are you really from?
Now as an adult, I often receive outright racist remarks. For example, recently in my capacity as a practicing physician treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients, I advocated for continued mask usage until a majority of our fellow Americans are vaccinated. I received some vicious feedback: Go back to Wuhan. Stop being George Soros’ patsy. Shut up and let the real Americans talk.
None of this of course makes any sense — I was born in the United States and my family is from a region of China over 600 miles away from Wuhan. This pandemic has led to more racism. I was thus pleasantly surprised and excited that in their first few weeks, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have strongly denounced the ongoing violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans and other minority groups.
Hate crimes grew during pandemic
The pair deserve praise for showing national leadership against this discrimination. Biden recently signed an executive memorandum condemning “racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian American and Pacific Islander” communities, and Biden and Harris released videos this month on the Lunar New Year to further bring attention to these issues. This is in the context of increasing violence and hate crimes against Asian-Americans across the nation during the pandemic.
For example, earlier this year, a 91-year-old Asian man in a California Chinatown was brutally attacked, while another elderly man was attacked with a box cutter in New York. Stop AAPI Hate, a website that aggregates reported incidents of hate crimes against Asian Americans, reports significant increases in the last 11 months, to nearly 3,000 separate events.
The hate often is linked to individuals blaming China for creating the coronavirus pandemic, and that animosity spills into anyone who looks to be of Asian descent, whether they are American citizens or not. National leadership and rhetoric are vital to combatting this, and the current administration should be applauded for taking this head-on.
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In addition to continuing to publicly and specifically identify the increase in hate crimes, Biden has signed four related executive orders related to tackling the issue. This has brought awareness to a minority group whose inequities are often overlooked and swept away with the label of the “model minority.”
‘A stain on our national character’
Contrast this to the previous administration which actively stoked aggression against Asian groups. Former President Donald Trump and his staff repeatedly called the coronavirus the “Kung Flu” and the “Chinese virus.” The World Health Organization has called such geographical labeling discriminatory, and public health experts have said it perpetuates xenophobia. It also allows people an innocent scapegoat against which to funnel their coronavirus fears and agitation. Words matter. None more so than those used by the leaders of the free world.
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In his Lunar New Year video, Biden called racism, harassment and hate crimes “simply wrong — it’s a stain on our national character.” We are currently going through a reckoning against racial discrimination, highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether it’s asking young Asian-Americans about their “kung fu” or beating elderly Asian-Americans over the “kung flu,” we need to continue bringing attention to racism against all minority groups, so we can recognize and extinguish it. Thank you, President Biden and Vice President Harris, for taking another step forward to achieve this goal.
Thomas K. Lew, MD, is an assistant clinical professor of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and an attending physician of Hospital Medicine at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare. All opinions expressed here are his own. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasLewMD