“The China virus!” the president bellowed in the recent presidential debate referring to COVID-19. Then seconds later he threw in, “It’s all China’s fault!”
Those words stung me. I had heard him use these racially-charged words before and each time he did I felt uneasy, disconcerted, and alarmed. In the current racially-tense atmosphere of our nation where there have already been incidents of hate crimes against Asian-Americans, these words could only make things worse. Are we Asian-Americans going to continually be blamed for COVID-19?
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I looked in the mirror. Though not born in China, I am Chinese-American and have the East Asian features of dark hair, dark eyes, and bronze skin. There is no mistake I stand out physically among the white majority. I thought about the millions of Asian-Americans who stood out physically too — who have heard the president’s racial slur time and again. How uncomfortable, anxious, and troubled many of them must feel. Many of them may not have anything to do with China and even those who do may have no connection to the virus. Laying the blame on them isn’t right. It detracts from solving the virus problem.
My unease rose to another level the next day when the Proud Boys showed how energized they were by the President’s words. I felt intimidated and kept thinking, “Will taunts and violence be coming my way?” Though the president subsequently “condemned” white supremacists it was difficult to believe in the sincerity of his words. Moreover now that he has contracted COVID, if he dies is there going to be backlash against Asian-Americans?
I saw my mail-in ballot sitting on my desk. I had not touched it since it arrived. I thought about not voting. I was intimidated enough as it was. After all, my vote is just one vote, one voice — a small voice. It is unlikely going to be heard in the mass of voices in politically conservative Southwest Florida. I decided I would just “stand back,” and “stand by” while others vote.
Two days later a loved one fell ill and I accompanied him to NCH Baker Hospital. As we were admitted to the emergency room I saw doctors and nurses, mostly white, running around busily helping patients of different races. Then, as we were waiting for medical attention, I saw a young doctor enter the room next door. She was knowledgeable, energetic, and caring. The patient was a Hispanic girl who needed an interpreter. Once the interpreter was present we could hear some of the conversation as the doctor discussed the patient’s medical condition. It appeared that the patient had some problems at school and felt no one cared. The doctor assured the girl that the doctor and the medical staff all cared and so did the family members who were present.
I was touched that a busy medical professional in an emergency room ward, who still had patients in the lobby waiting to be admitted, had time to give a pep talk. Then this doctor came into our room. Her positive energy, competence, and attentiveness were apparent. She was going to help her patients irrelevant of what color they were. There was a lump in my throat as I teared up and realized that even though the leader of our country is fueling racial divide, many hardworking Americans are helping each other across racial lines. The qualities of the doctor and her staff reminded me that this is the America I want to live in: one that is savvy enough to absorb the richness of people of different colors while at the same time strives to treat them equally — as if they were colorless.
This is the America I am working for, fighting for, and must vote for.
Two days later, setting aside my feelings of intimidation and doubt, with my Asian face — and American spirit — I filled in my ballot, walked into the local elections office, and dropped it off.
Jade Wu is an author, attorney, and former U.S. foreign aid worker. Her foreign affairs memoir Flash Points was published by State University of New York Press in 2017. She lives in Naples. Twitter: @jadewu1776
This article originally appeared on Washington County News: Guest opinion: 'This is the America I am working for, fighting for, and must vote for'