It’s dangerous to stigmatize Asians, especially during a public health crisis

It’s dangerous to stigmatize Asians, especially during a public health crisis
President Donald J. Trump, joined by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, listens to a reporter’s question at a coronavirus (COVID-19) update briefing Sunday, March 22, 2020. (Source: Virginia Mercury)

By the Virginia Asian Advisory Board

In an already anti-immigrant environment, Asians, particularly the Chinese, are reportedly facing increasing acts of racism, xenophobia and stigmatization as a result of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Asian students have reported being victims of name-calling, harassment and even violence. Asians, and even products made in China, are ridiculed or associated as sources or carriers of coronavirus. Asian-owned and operated businesses are being shunned. Uber and Lyft drivers are bypassing Asians because of their surnames. More and more stories are being shared on social media of Asians being victimized.

Why? Because political leaders in our country continue to use terms like “Chinese virus” and “Kung flu” to describe COVID-19. This rhetoric is harmful, fuels misinformation, and inflames anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment. Now, a community response is required to not only contain a public health crisis but a public safety one too. We need to work collectively toward containing a virus that doesn’t discriminate. It knows no boundaries. It doesn’t care what and how many demographic boxes anyone checks.

While it doesn’t care what it’s called, WE do because it’s stigmatizing the Asian community and it’s dangerous.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued best practices for naming new human infectious diseases, which include avoiding terms that specific geographic locations (e.g., Spanish Flu); people’s names (e.g., Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease); species of animal or food (e.g. swine flu, bird flu); cultural, population, industry or occupational references (e.g., legionnaires); and terms that incite undue fear (e.g., unknown, fatal).

“In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors,” says Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for Health Security, WHO. “This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”

Let’s be clear. The name of this virus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease it causes is “coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”


The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.