Commentary: Racism is the virus

In her commentary, managing editor Jasmine Gidney shares her feelings about anti-asian racism in the COVID-era. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

It’s the middle of the afternoon, but I haven’t moved from my bed. The curtains are closed, the lights are off and I’m buried under a pile of blankets. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I can’t sleep. All I can do is stare at the video on my phone.  

A 91-year-old Asian man walks through the sunny streets of Oakland’s Chinatown when a man in a black hoodie shoves him from behind. The elderly man’s face barely misses a parked car, but slams into the pavement beside it. He doesn’t move. 

I can hear the crack his skull makes when it hits the ground. I wonder if he called for help, or if he was still conscious. I wonder how long he laid in the streets until someone found him. I wonder if he’s still alive. 

I feel sick because I know this isn’t the first time a video like this goes viral, and I know it won’t be the last time. 

The number of hate crimes against Asians has skyrocketed since the pandemic began last March. The attacks range from people telling Asians to “go back to their country” and spitting on them to stabbing children and setting elderly women on fire. These attackers try to justify their abuse, assaults and killings because COVID-19 originated in China, causing them to believe all Asians are responsible for the pandemic. 

It didn’t help that people, like Donald Trump, called it the “Chinese virus” or “Kung flu,” adding fuel to the fire. It dehumanizes us and makes people see us, people with Asian heritage, as a disease. 

I found it hard to leave my apartment. I’d pace around the living room, debating whether to order takeout again before finally finding the courage to grab my keys and head out the door.  

I couldn’t breathe, and it wasn’t because of the mask. I felt like people were staring. Most of the time, it was my anxiety and paranoia playing tricks on me. But a few times, I caught people giving me dirty looks, and I wondered if I would end up as a story on the news that night. 

My friends and family couldn’t understand what it was like to live in fear of being attacked every time they walked out the door.  

I couldn’t hide my darker skin or my slanted eyes. If someone held a grudge against Asians, there was nothing I could do to protect myself. I felt helpless. 

While the attacks eased up when COVID-19 cases began to drop, my fear remained. The prejudice was always there, but the pandemic gave these racists an excuse to act on their hate. 

With the second wave of the pandemic underway, the attacks are on the rise again and it’s hard to leave the safety of my apartment. 

Even when the pandemic ends and life returns to normal for everyone else, it’ll never be the same for me. That’s what racism does: it’s the virus that scars you forever.