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Why Trump’s ‘Chinese Virus’ claim is putting American lives at risk

An underlying effect of Coronavirus’ tear through the U.S. right now is the attacks on Chinese-Americans.

The United States is one of the most advanced and developed nations on Earth. Donned “the leader of the free world” during the Cold War, the United States is ostensibly the most progressive state ever formed.

Still, one immensely troubling aspect of American history is a propensity for scapegoating and racist rhetoric during times of fear, uncertainty, or political upheaval.

These instances of bigotry and racism do not point to progressiveness, but to a country defined by the exploitative and white supremacist foundations that first turned it into a superpower centuries ago.

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China in 2019. The virus took an enormous toll on China, and as the calendar flipped into 2020, it started to ravage other countries too.

President Trump has called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” a ploy to escape accountability and shove blame on others.

And while the virus did originate in China, and evidence points to it being a result of irresponsible legal wildlife hunting in the country, Trump‘s words do nothing to stall tensions universally or domestically.

Possibly, after realizing what the effect of his words has had on the global community, Cheddar Bob took to Twitter, as usual.

Yuanyuan Zhu was accosted and spit on in San Francisco on her way to the gym in early March. A man yelled threats and spit on her face because he saw she was likely Chinese.

Zhu managed to get away from the attacker and on a corner close to her gym, broke down and cried.

“That person didn’t look strange or angry or anything, you know?” Zhu said of her attacker. “He just looked like a normal person.”

Zhu is not the only Chinese American to be attacked because of her ethnicity. Jiayang Fan, a New York Times reporter, shared on her Twitter that she was verbally assaulted by a man while taking out her trash.

In both cases, the attacker had no identifier that one could notice and approach with caution moving forward. No bite to his breath or gleam in his eye that could allow these women to calm down and treat their attacker as an outlier.

The men who verbally assaulted Zhu and Fan are everyday people. A product of a society that turns to bigotry and anger in times of fear and uncertainty. Trump’s dangerous rhetoric does not calm fears.

It stokes the flame.

As always with Trump, there is an ulterior motive to his actions. With the stock market plunging, Trump uses the term “Chinese virus” to absolve himself of blame and cast it on the Chinese.

But the effects of his words stretch beyond just diplomatic relations. Trump’s rhetoric affects Americans that are scared, helpless, and in some cases, irrational.

Chinese Americans do not just face the same threat of contracting the virus that the rest of us face. They also face a just-as-uncertain threat: the anger of their neighbors and fellow citizens.

For as obscure as COVID-19 is, the threat of any random citizen attacking them just because of their ethnicity is too.

The Guardian reported that gun sales in Washington and California increased extraordinarily over the past two weeks, propelled by Asian Americans who were fearful of xenophobic and racist attacks.

A stack of firearm transfers slated for processing from this past weekend’s sales. An officer with the Bellevue Police Department said it normally sees about six of these every weekend. [Bellevue Police Department]

For all Asian Americans, the threat of being attacked is very real. Racists do not have a complex understanding of Chinese languages, or typical Chinese facial features or attributes.

They attack when they are angry and scared, and Trump’s words give them unnecessary fuel to an already raging fire.

When we analyze past pandemics, we understand how the messages spread by government officials have always had lasting effects on the way the public perceives a virus.

One of the deadliest pandemics in recent memory, the Spanish Flu of 1918, was only called the Spanish Flu because, during World War 1, neutral Spain was free to report on the massive number of people infected.

Countries in the middle of the war, such as Germany, France, and the U.S., had just as much of a problem with the virus but did not allow the press to spread the information. Thus the pandemic was donned the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Though 100 years later, we see the effect of governments not being transparent, and how a simple yet racist name can take fruit and have massive consequences.

COVID-19 did start in China. The virus was most likely a result of shady wildlife hunting practices and the unhygienic areas in which animals were held.

The people of China are not to blame. But the Chinese government does need to take some credit (just as Trump does) for not being transparent from the beginning and trying to maintain order by keeping the word of the virus under wraps.

This, in China and the U.S., has had an unmistakably large hand at helping the virus to spread and ruin lives.

Chinese Americans are as American as the rest of us, and during this time of uncertainty, we must not target, belittle, or attack our neighbors. We need to be unified because we as a country can do better together.

We depend on each other and because of COVID-19, we know this now more than ever before.