Since the start of the pandemic, Asians across the globe have been subject to racism and xenophobia as misinformation continues to spread about the novel coronavirus. In the U.S., misinformation about how the virus spread has led to racist verbal and physical attacks on people who appear to be East Asian. As Donald Trump and his administration continue to fuel this fire by using language like the “Kung Flu” to refer to COVID-19, Asian Americans continue to face discrimination both in their homes and in public.
Following increased reports of violence against Asian Americans and other people of color, Immigrants’ List Civic Action is releasing a video ad entitled “Words Matter” in battleground states. The ad calls out Trump for his racist and xenophobic language. According to NBC News, the pro-immigrant group hopes to appeal to people of color and recent immigrants who have not voted before. The 60-second ad has already been shared on social media and is expected to air on local stations in Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin leading up to the presidential election.
“The point of ‘Words Matter’ is to highlight the kinds of racist rhetoric that Trump is using when he calls the coronavirus ‘kung flu’ or calls it the ‘Chinese virus,’” Ira Kurzban, founder of Immigrants’ List Civic Action, told NBC News. Kurzban added that the states his team selected were places Trump won by a very small margin in 2016. “We’re trying to get people out to vote because we believe if new Americans vote, we will have a new person in the White House in January 2021,” he said.
Trump has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus,” and other dehumanizing rhetoric. Instead of apologizing and retracting his offensive words, Trump has defended his statements, claiming they were not racist. “Cause it comes from China. It’s not racist at all, no, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate,” Trump said according to CNN.
The powerful ad features horrific news headlines about crimes committed as a result of Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric in addition to headlines highlighting the fear present in Asian American communities. It ends with a powerful yet simple request: “Tell Donald Trump words matter.”
Around the same time as Trump refused to accept the role his influence had in the rise of crimes against Asian Americans, he issued a statement on Twitter to protect the Asian American community in March: “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!” Yet, despite this statement, Trump has continued to blame China for the pandemic.
When asked about the consequences of Trump’s “attacks against Asian Americans,” the Trump campaign defended his comments. “President Trump is not afraid to call out China, and he also strongly stated that we must protect Asian Americans because they bear no responsibility whatsoever for the Chinese virus,” campaign spokesman Matt Wolking said in a statement to The Hill. “The fault lies with China alone, and when Chinese officials tried to blame American troops for the virus, President Trump fought back against their disinformation campaign by making it very clear where the virus originated.”
Despite what Trump, his campaign, and his administration argue, words matter. As misinformation continues to spread, Asian Americans face discrimination not only in the form of violence but economically as well, with the public afraid to work with or purchase from their businesses. These incidents resemble historical racism that can be traced back to what scholars call the “yellow peril”—ideology from the 19th century that claims that things from Asia are a great threat to the white world.
“[It’s] not just the hostile things he’s said, it’s the outcomes as a result of that — the anti-Asian discriminatory attitude that it creates … and allows those people who are racially biased to begin with to feel free,” Kurzban told The Hill. “Because they see the president of the country doing it, they may feel free to go out and not only say horrible things but to actually do things and some of this has already had consequences.” Within four weeks of the March launch of Stop AAPI Hate, an online anti-Asian bias tracker, almost 1,500 cases of violence towards Asian Americans were reported. Months later the website continued to receive reports of discrimination and violence, including physical assault and being refused entrance to public spaces. Our leaders should not be condoning violence but instead condemning it.