Through the years I’ve experienced anti-Chinese sentiment. It waxes and wanes in American society, stirred on by one event or another. I generally hear it about it from a friend or colleague warning me about using my last name.
But it had been a long, long time since I last heard the phrase “anti-Chinese sentiment” — until last week. It came in a well-intentioned email from a good-hearted acquaintance about animosity toward Chinese during the coronavirus pandemic.
This time it really struck me because of the protests for racial justice brought on by the horrendous murder of George Floyd. Everyone who cares about equality and human rights must place themselves in the shoes of black people and act as if we are fighting for our own rights and our children’s.
Returning to that well-intended message, I acknowledged the sender and politely conveyed some degree of appreciation. However, I felt annoyed and irritated. What I wanted to say was: “Thanks, but I wouldn’t compare it to all the systemic anti-black sentiment that’s persisted for generations.”
But really, what is anti-Chinese sentiment other than a polite way of describing racism? It’s something you can say while sipping a nice cup of tea in mixed company — it’s sanitized and non-offensive to those of tender ears.
We don’t like you because you’re Chinese; we blame you because you’re Chinese; we don’t want to do business with you because you’re Chinese. It’s true that Chinese are not a separate race. But when someone harasses or assaults someone Chinese, they don’t stop to ask about your background. They just see an Asian and go ahead. What do you call that but racism?
I’ve never cried racism in my life. I’ve never known a Chinese, Japanese, or Korean who has. We put our heads down, wait for it to pass, ignore the name calling, the jeering, the demeaning treatment, the violence. Mostly, I don’t even think racism, but “well that sucks, but it happened.” None of this makes the act any less racist.
My mother, who is afraid to leave her home because of the attacks on Chinese people for supposedly bringing the coronavirus, doesn’t cry racism. Yes, coronavirus came from China, but my mother hasn’t left the United States in over 10 years. For all her fears, I doubt she thinks racism; she is simply afraid for her safety, and that breaks my heart. If I thought it would do any good, I’d be angry. Instead, I counsel her to stay home and have things delivered — there is a pandemic on, after all, and she’s at high risk.
The fact is, despite putting up with racist people, attitudes, and acts, we don’t call out racism. Should we? I don’t know. I’m not trying to draw a comparison to what black Americans have endured — that’s immeasurable. But racism is racism regardless of extent or degree, and we must choose to be a society that doesn’t condone any measure of it. For that reason, I just think it shouldn’t be called anti-Chinese sentiment anymore because that just sounds too darn acceptable.
Marie Xi Chen is a retired software engineer. She has lived in North Clairemont since 1998.