Exactly one year ago, I wrote about the dangers of the term "Chinese virus." A term espoused by former President Donald Trump and repeated ad nauseam on social media as a loaded alternative to coronavirus. I argued the phrase wasn't only divisive in a moment when we needed unity but would lead to further violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
While I expected the usual trolls to come out and tell me to "stick to tech," I was still shocked by the flood of comments thrashing my commentary, with some offering up their own, more offensive take on the term. Others told me to stop trying to impose my political views on the matter. Most refused to recognize the loaded racial implications of those words and the risks they carry. The reactions to my YouTube video were particularly heinous.
A year later, nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate tallied nearly 3,800 reported incidents of racism against Asian Americans. That was capped off last week by the tragic killing of eight people -- six of them Asian American women -- in shootings in Atlanta that has outraged the nation and brought the issue of violence against Asian Americans to the forefront.
"I told you so," has never been so heartbreaking.
So I'm writing once again to remind people that words matter.
It's the kind of simple grade school concept that shouldn't be controversial. But even as I tweeted it out in the aftermath of the shooting last week, someone responded and asked me to stop making this political and blaming Republicans (ignoring the fact that I never mentioned Republicans, or any group for that matter).
It's not just me. President Joe Biden echoed this sentiment in his speech in Atlanta.
"Words have consequences," he said. "It's the coronavirus. Full stop."
It's a statement backed up by hard science. A study conducted by UC San Francisco found that more than half of the tweets including the hashtag #chinesevirus also used an anti-Asian hashtag. Only a fifth of the tweets that included the #covid19 hashtag showed anti-Asian sentiment. The study had looked at the tweets from a week before to a week after Trump tweeted the words "Chinese virus" on March 16.
"Our data provide new empirical evidence supporting recommendations to use the less-stigmatizing term 'COVID-19,' instead of 'Chinese virus,'" the study said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization already have policies in place to avoid linking viruses with geography and creating unnecessary stigma -- policies Trump frequently flouted.
While the shootings in Atlanta have turned this into a national issue, the dangers to my family and friends have been real for the past 12 months. Linking the coronavirus to Asian Americans has put a bull's-eye on our backs. Even before last week, my feed was filled with reports of senseless assaults on Asian American senior citizens -- some with tragic consequences. More than a year ago, my son's classmate and his mother were verbally assaulted by a passerby in a car.
Still think those words don't matter? I spent part of the weekend on Amazon shopping for personal defense equipment for my parents, whose age sadly makes them prime targets for attacks. I worry about my friends in New York, where the number of incidents have exploded. Just this Sunday, an Asian woman was punched in the face repeatedly in front of her daughter on her way to a protest against anti-Asian violence.
This is not normal. But it's all too common for the Asian American community, which has been stuck with this reality and silently screaming all this time. And it all started with those two little words.
I initially didn't want to write this commentary. Frankly, I'm emotionally drained from the past week -- the last year, really. I struggled to find the right words. But I'm well aware of the stereotype of the quiet "model minority" Asian, and I know silently screaming accomplishes nothing.
I'm not OK with this. I'm angry and frustrated. You should be, too.