As the horrific news of the murder of six women of Asian descent in Atlanta sinks in, all of us at Hesperian stand in solidarity with members of the Asian community, as well as others who face racism in America and are personally impacted.
Anti-Asian racism has long existed in the US, and was intensified by the former President of the United States, many members of Congress, and much of the corporate media referring to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus.” Although the outbreak of COVID-19 first occurred in China, calling the disease by this name plays into centuries-old stereotypes of Asian people as “foreigners.”
The public health community for the most part opposed this racializing of the coronavirus, but not deeply enough. That is evident in the discussions of the pandemic responses and of the vaccines against COVID-19 that have been developed and released. News coverage is plentiful about pandemic responses in predominantly white or wealthy countries and effective policies are attributed to the choices made by their leaders. However, stories about the response in Asian countries, especially those that were particularly successful like Thailand and Vietnam, are scarce, and often present absurd or magical explanations of how they evaded huge outbreaks of COVID-19. Is US society so drenched in white supremacy and imperial arrogance that the thought of learning from Asian experience doesn’t even register?
While there has been lots of public discussion of vaccines, and of the difficulty accessing them both in the US and world-wide, there has not been even a whisper in government or the media celebrating the COVID-19 vaccines developed in China and now being distributed around the world. The only discussion of them seems to be mourning that the US is losing the race of “vaccine diplomacy.”
Members of the Asian-American community, especially women, have for too long been ignored as they call attention to the discrimination and violence they experience in America. The pandemic exposes the profound disparities that impact their ongoing experience. We call on white members of our community and members of the public health community to listen closely, learn from non-Eurocentric experience, and embrace criticism. We must find ways to stop the spread and devastation of unconscious bias, racist discrimination, and white supremacy.