Chinese and Asian people become targets of racist attacks during the pandemic
CALGARY -- In the early stages of the pandemic, Rosalind Kang experienced what would become a growing problem among the Chinese and Asian community over the next several months.
It was the middle of March 2020 and Kang was at a grocery store when a man came up to her and started berating her with racist slurs because she had a mask on.
Kang says even now the encounter is traumatizing.
“It’s really hard because you’re not quite sure what to do,” she said. “You feel like you got a target on your back.”
Since the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, some have blamed Chinese and Asian people for it.
An Angus-Reid poll of more than 500 Chinese-Canadians found half were called names or insulted because of the outbreak, while 43 per cent have been threatened or intimated.
CTV News has spoken to a number of Asian people who have been attacked, including Jessica Lau who was spat on and called a racist name while she was in a Calgary park.
In her case, police charged Justin Williams with three counts of assault and weapons possession.
“I was just, like, ‘Man, this blows my mind that this happened,’” said Lau.
Racism and discrimination towards Asian people has been condemned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other top officials in Canada, but Teresa Woo-Paw, co-founder of a non-profit organization called Act2EndRacism, says hateful rhetoric from other powerful individuals like U.S. President Donald Trump has only added fuel to the issue.
“When we have high-profile figures and iconic personalities, including people like Donald Trump calling this the ‘China Virus’ and the ‘Kung Flu virus’ it just becomes open season for the bullies,” she said.
A study done by various organizations including the Chinese-Canadian National Council for Social Justice, based in Toronto, found Canada has a higher number of anti-Asian racism reports per capita compared to the U.S.
In another report, about 14 per cent of Canadians believe or were unsure if all Chinese or Asian people carry the virus.
The misconceptions have been damaging and invoke anti-Chinese sentiments during the SARS outbreak in 2003 as well as the ‘Yellow Peril’ period in the 19th century when diseases were sometimes associated with Asian people.
“In Canada, during the migration, it came up quite heavily because they wanted to shut the borders and not let Chinese bodies in and there was a huge rhetoric that was used about how Chinese bodies are dangerous bodies and it will corrupt our culture and our people and bring disease in,” said Irene Shankar, a sociologist with Mount Royal University in Calgary.
Shankar says anti-Chinese sentiments haven’t gone away – they’ve just been magnified during the pandemic.
Efforts have been made to quell fears and misconceptions about Asian people and the coronavirus.
Amy Go with the Chinese-Canadian National Council for Social Justice says her group held a press conference after the first two positive cases in Toronto were confirmed.
“We believe it’s important to do the little things. Even changing one’s mind would be better than nothing,” said Go.
Go says her organization and others are calling on the government to include an anti-racism strategy in its post-pandemic recovery plan.
While various groups work to find ways to effect change and support those racially victimized during the pandemic, Kang is hoping that by telling her story she will help others understand the impact that racist attacks have had on the Asian community.
“Racism can be quite traumatic for many people especially those who experience it because they feel a sense of isolation if no one intervenes or nobody says anything.”