So how’s the new “social distancing” going for you? When you’re an Asian American or a person of color, the old “social distancing” used to mean just one thing—racism.
It was just a form of separation, what happens when people segregated from the “other.”
No need to hang out with us. Distance was mandatory.
I thought of that as I practiced my civic duty of the new “social distancing” in an online meeting in the first weekend of being locked down in California.
As the volunteer museum director of the Filipino American National History Museum in Stockton, I knew my small group of colleagues would want to gather and have a sense of community.
One of the first questions I asked them was if they felt anything different when they went out in public, especially after the president doubled down and insisted on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus.”
His way of connecting the old form of social distancing with the new.
Filipinos, after the Chinese, are the second largest Asian American group in California. We have Spanish last names, Asian blood, and American citizenship.
One person in the group didn’t hesitate. “Yeah,” he said, describing a scene at a grocery store when something threatening was said. “I just ignored it.”
Admirably, my friend was trying to be above it all. You know, when they go low, we go high? He didn’t really want to talk about it further. But we all know it’s out there. And it’s as real as the virus.
And Donald Trump talking about his “Chinese Virus” was spreading it around.
Asian Americans know from our history of exclusion that when Americans need a scapegoat, we’re there.
So imagine my surprise to see Trump at the Monday evening White House briefing.
“Americans must remain united in purpose and focused on victory,” he said, reading boilerplate from the script.
“To every single American please know that the sacrifice you are making at this time is saving lives…many many lives.”
He was ad libbing the tail part of that. His way of trying to sound real.
But then he returned to the script for a real surprise.
“It’s very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States and all around the world,” Trump said.
Was he trying to placate his full level Cabinet secretary Elaine Chao, a/k/a Mrs. Mitch McConnell? We know Trump doesn’t read the New York Times, but maybe he’s seen the anecdotal stories on Twitter of Asian Americans being accosted?
So despite last week, when he insisted that calling it the “Chinese virus” wasn’t racist or offensive to Asian Americans, suddenly Trump was very caring.
“ They are amazing people and the spread of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape, or form. They’re working closely with us to get rid of it. We will prevail together. It’s very important.”
Maybe it was all the cherry blossoms in Washington this weekend when few were keeping social distance?
But there he was, the schoolyard bully standing up in front of the class, reading a script and trying to sound like he was sorry without saying he was sorry.
But it’s not enough. It’s not even an apology.
He needs to read his words aloud again and again until we eradicate the virus he started—the virus of the Trump “Chinese Virus.”
“If they keep using these terms, the kids are going to pick it up,” Tony Du of Maryland told the New York Times. “They are going to call my 8-year-old-son a Chinese virus. It’s serious.”
This is how the bully virus spreads. Trump ought to know. His contrition is only beginning.
A few seconds from the podium doesn’t undo the hate he’s spread—not when America under lockdown is looking for a scapegoat.
If you’ve felt the fear and want to share your story, I’m holding the same kind of gathering I did for my Filipino history museum folks.
Our history knows how real the threat is. Share your story in an online gathering. Email me for an invite. We’ll let the president know the virus he started is for real.