A white man threw a drink in the face of a San Franciscan and shouted, “you’re all disgusting.” An elderly white woman walked up to another San Franciscan, yelling in their face, “you should wear a face mask! Stop spreading the virus!”
Two teenagers walked out of Nijiya Market at the mall in Japan Town and pretended to sneeze and cough in another San Franciscan’s face. One San Franciscan who lives near Balboa Park was yelled at by a neighbor who lives across the street, “Fucking Chinese, go back to China!”
The tie that binds all these incidents?
All of these San Franciscans enduring increasing bigotry were Asian, and they say hate is on the rise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 30 incidents of hate in San Francisco alone have been reported to a new website, the STOP AAPI HATE Reporting Center, which aims to catalog Asian American and Pacific Islander hate violence, adult harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying.
That’s between this past Thursday and Monday alone.
While this new website has been in the news a bit this past week, these numbers are new: In the broader U.S., more than 550 incidents have been reported to the STOP AAPI HATE Reporting Center in the same period, Cynthia Choi, the co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a San Francisco group. Nationally, 100 more incidents were reported Tuesday, as well.
“A lot of times the microaggressions, hostility, assaults, are pooh-poohed, they’re not taken seriously,” Choi told me by phone Tuesday. “We wanted to show this is happening nationally, this is happening at an alarming rate that we should all be concerned about.”
Choi also added those spreading hate against Chinese people tend to lump all Asian groups together, with incidents touching Asian people from many different backgrounds.
The website to report these incidents is a joint effort between the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action and San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Department. It also comes as our commander-in-chief spreads this hate himself.
President Donald Trump has called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” as other names like the “Wuhan virus” and “Kung-Flu” circulate as well.
San Franciso Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee pinned the uptick in violence squarely on the president’s shoulders.
“As our nation grapples with the public health emergency we have a president scapegoating and inciting violence against Asian community members,” Yee said during a public Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
Yee introduced a resolution at the Board of Supervisors condemning the use of xenophobic and racist terms for coronavirus Tuesday.
The virus may have originated in Wuhan, but it doesn’t discriminate in who it infects, city officials noted.
“COVID-19 is a public health issue, not a racial one,” Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said in a statement.
But what’s perhaps more galling is the idea that such hate would spread in the Bay Area at all. We’re a region with a rich multicultural history, with contributions from Asian and Chinese people dating back to our earliest days. How could xenophobia like that spread here, of all places?
Eric Mar, a San Francisco State University Asian Studies professor and former member of the Board of Supervisors, noted this isn’t the first time San Franciscans have turned against their Chinese and Asian neighbors amid a pandemic.
“I think we’re seeing a repeat of history now,” Mar told me.
When reports surfaced that the bubonic plague hit San Francisco in 1900, Chinatown was quarantined, according to Black Death at the Golden Gate, a telling history by David K. Randall. No food was allowed in, and no residents were allowed out.
But Chinatown leaders, including the still-standing group the Chinese Six Companies, challenged the credentials of the health officials who locked down Chinatown and sued the government. They fought back, much as local Asian groups are fighting back now.
“I think everyone has legitimate fears,” Mar said, but, “in the HIV/AIDS crisis, the demonization of gay people was extremely homophobic and didn’t stem the spread of the virus.”
Demonization often follows a public health crisis. It’s up to us to learn from history and help keep San Francisco the shining beacon of tolerance we believe it to be.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.