To be the virus.

Jonathan Su

CUNY School of Medicine, MS2


June 8, 2020

Brooklyn, New York

As COVID-19 continues to spread and the entire world takes necessary precautions to stay healthy and safe, an unfortunate reality has emerged – an increase in expressions of xenophobia and racist anti-Asian sentiments, especially targeting the Chinese community. There are unfortunately countless examples on social media depicting the kind of anti-Asian violence and discrimination affiliated with the global pandemic. From the hateful vandalization of Asian-owned businesses to physical harassment, the social fallout has taken a major emotional and mental toll on the livelihood of Asians not just in the U.S. but in various parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, and France.

Anti-Chinese and anti-Asian rhetoric (particularly against those who look East-Asian) has also been spewed by people in power, including senior officials, governmental leaders, and other political figures. For example, President Trump has on multiple occasions called the coronavirus “the Chinese virus,” rejecting the World Health Organization’s advice against using geographic locations when categorizing illnesses. It is not the first time in history when dehumanizing labels have been used as scapegoating against particular groups of people. After 9/11, American Muslims, Arabs and South Asians in the United States became victim to societal stigma and malicious xenophobia. When the number of Ebola cases had increased in 2014, increasing incidences of racism were inflicted against those of African descent. Ignorance and fear are a very dangerous combination and have only catalyzed the spread of falsehoods and mistruths. As future and current physicians, we must not subject ourselves to misinformation.

Still, the prospect of anti-Asian rhetoric becoming a part of mainstream American dialogue concerns me most. As an Asian-American, it saddens me to see the indiscriminate nature of racism manifest. It does not matter whether we are from Burma, Thailand, or Korea. Certain Asian groups that bear even the slightest resemblance to each other are being carpet-bombed with hate speech and insensitive racial slurs, and according to the model minority myth that in itself is a socially engineered stereotype, we are supposed to remain silent. From the xenophobe’s perspective, we don’t just have the virus. We are perceived to be the virus.

It is imperative that all medical students, current physicians, and other medical caregivers remain cognizant of social justice concerns. All educational institutions across the nation, including medical schools, should provide anti-discriminatory resources in the form of counseling and community/departmental outreach, even if such forms are virtual. These kinds of resources are important interventions that hone in on human rights issues which illuminate the direct need to protect our Asian brothers and sisters. This need is also a testament to our aim to protect all immigrants and to disengage ourselves from potentially harmful social behaviors. Our social belonging in the U.S. must not be rendered conditional; our liberty to live and simply exist as who we are is an unconditional human right. As future and current physicians, we need to continue to stand in solidarity with those who undergo categorical marginalization, prejudice, and stigmatization. Furthermore, we must continue to treat members within our communities and beyond with care and empathy. It is imperative that all of us work toward building a safe, supportive climate, free from racial hostility for all members of our community, particularly during these challenging times. And at an international scale, all governments should expand upon existing anti-discriminatory legislation/aid and adopt new actionable plans to address the upsurge of discrimination and xenophobia tailored to these changing and particularly challenging circumstances.


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