“Chinese are destroying Bay Ridge.” Flyers with this title were found distributed across Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in June 2020. The flyers went on to describe some of the “crimes” that Chinese in Bay Ridge have “committed”: “junk stores: massage parlors (prostitution), nail salons, 99 cent stores, dirty Chinese restaurants; trashed up streets, bottle collecting, scavenging; coronavirus spread by Chinese immigration.”
As a Chinese student who just moved to the US five years ago, I have encountered stereotypes like how supposedly Asians are good at math, hard-working, overall submissive, and harmless citizens. And now, being Asian or Chinese apparently is also associated with “diseased” or “dirty”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a troubling time for Asians in America. The Model Minority Myth and COVID discrimination are plaguing the Asian community at the same time.
The Model Minority Myth
What is the Model Minority myth? Model Minority is the notion commonly associated with Asians in America. It depicts them as a “well-educated, polite, law-abiding group who has achieved a higher level of success than the general population.”
Even though these impressions appear to be positive stereotypes, the Model Minority myth has concealed many struggles of Asians in America and, unfortunately, COVID-19 related discrimination has become a considerable part of these overlooked struggles.
The Trump administration’s choice of framing the virus as China’s sole responsibility and its usages of terms like “China Virus” or “Wuhan Virus” has deeply affected the public perception of Chinese Americans and the Asian-American population. As a result, hate crimes against Asians have drastically increased in the US. In New York City, NYPD has reported a 1,900 percent uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes.
However, since the Model Minority myth has perpetuated that nothing bad can ever happen to Asians, very little has been done by government sectors. Even though the House of Representatives did pass a resolution that asked public officials to condemn anti-Asian sentiment related to COVID-19, the resolution mandates no actions or requirements, hence has done little to reduce the social burden of COVID-19 hate crimes on Asians.
The lack of government acknowledgment and intervention has translated the social burdens into health burdens. The fear of on-going violence against Asians, and the stigma of COVID-19 as an Asian virus have deterred many Asians in America from seeking healthcare.
As a result, data collected by each state has shown that death among COVID patients who are Asian is three times that of California’s overall fatality rate (8.4% versus 2.6%) and exceeds 10% in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and New Jersey.
The reduction of healthcare usage has also significantly reduced the testing rate of Asian Americans, which includes a wide range of ethnicities like Vietnamese, Indonesians, and Pacific Islanders. Among them, non-English speakers are often excluded from surveys or research, causing the biased data collection that’s constituted mainly of educated individuals, further reinforcing the Model Minority Myth.
While it does not excuse policymakers from their negligence, the incomprehensive information and the lack of holistic interpretation of what we know do offer some insights into why the discrimination against Asians in America and health disparities in the community have been flying under the radar. The question becomes: How do we do better? How do we make the Asian community more visible?
What Can You Do?
Because little has been done, there is much that can be done. On an individual level, to begin with, each and every one of us can contribute to destigmatizing Asians and COVID-19. By recognizing the impact of the Model Minority Myth, we can become more aware when we are misguided by that mindset. Start small, check in on your Asian friends, avoid using terms like “Wuhan Virus” or “China Virus” that associate COVID-19 with ethnicities.
More importantly, you can help by supporting local or national activism groups. For example, the OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national non-profit, have called upon President Trump and the US Attorney General to create a task force dedicated to hate-crimes against AAPIs, with very little response to date. The need for such efforts is urgent. By joining community voices, we make sure that negligent policymakers can hear and see such demand and act upon it.
The Asian community has long been pushed to the back of the line due to the Model Minority Myth. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the nuanced disparities Asians in America face. It is time for policymakers and researchers to stop turning the other way.