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Xenophobia Abroad

This week's blog post is written by Lily, a Yahel fellow living in Lod. Lily is one of our amazing fellows adapting to serving her community during the global pandemic.

The spread of the Covid-19 virus has drastically impacted not only my daily life as a fellow in Lod, but also the lives of millions across the globe. I would be ignorant to neglect the millions of lives that this pandemic has directly affected while only writing about the way in which my own, personal life has been touched by the virus. That being said, the resurgence of blatant racism and xenophobia against Asians that I have both encountered and read about has touched my soul in a way that the virus has not. In the last few months, and weeks especially, we have seen a rise in the amount of racist happenings directed towards Asians related to paranoia surrounding the coronavirus. The President of the United States himself has referred to Covid-19 as the ‘Chinese virus.’

As both an Asian woman and an American woman, and as I noted in my last blog post, I have been fortunate enough to move through difficult and challenging situations in my life with relative ease. My father, a Filipino immigrant, and my mother, an American born in the Midwest, have done a beautiful job in raising my brothers and I to have a certain sense of empathy for those on the periphery. Rather than fearing the unknown, my parents have always encouraged my brothers and I to explore it. This perspective is exactly where I’d like to start with this post.

Since the outbreak of the virus, it seems as though my newsfeed has been dominated and overwhelmed with heartbreaking accounts of those belonging to the Asian and Asian-American communities being targeted and attacked for their identity. Coughing while Asian, wearing a mask while Asian, existing while Asian – each of these simple actions, on a subway, at the market, or at the park, have been met with attacks of ignorance and racism increasingly so over the past month. Across the United States, as well as across Israel and other westernized nations, Chinese Americans, and other Asians, are living in fear as the racial discrimination spreads throughout the countries. The claim that the virus is the direct fault of China has resulted in thousands of attacks against Asians across the world. The widespread fear and paranoia that the virus has caused presents itself through racism. The paranoia that the virus has caused is, in my opinion, directly related to a form of racism that did not begin with the spread of Covid-19.

A long history of anti-Asian discrimination throughout the world makes these racist attacks easier. Since the arrival of Chinese immigrants to America and other westernized nations, these immigrants were seen as inferior and dirty. Through the use and acceptance of rhetoric such as this, leaders are able to paint those belonging to the Asian community as diseased, allowing for fear and eventually, violence against the group that is seemingly, on the outside. The Asian community has shouldered a large amount of blame for the pandemic at hand.

Three weeks ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having an afternoon coffee with a man who entertained this same ignorance about the cultures in Asian countries. Three weeks ago, as the month of March began to round itself out, I could not be more convinced that the reaction to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus was nothing more than an overreaction. But, as the conversation with this man turned into a monologue about his fear of Asians and Asian culture, I came to the realization that his racism is solely rooted in the fear of the unknown just as he came to the realization that I could possibly have Asian roots. Immediately retracting his sweeping statements, he tried to backtrack, saying “You know, they eat crazy stuff over there. Dogs and scorpions, that’s how the virus started.” He continued to blame his racism on his own, picky diet, saying he would never try Chinese food for fear that it might be contaminated. Having run into this confrontation before, I acknowledged his ignorance and moved on. However, this interaction has stuck with me over the past few weeks, as I read of more and more attacks against the Asian community. I decided to address my own ignorance and do some research about the wet markets in Wuhan, where the virus originated.

At a time like this, where the world is so severely divided, I don’t think we can afford much more fear. While these people making racist remarks may be hateful, I truly do not believe hate is at the center of these attacks. In my experience, it is fear that makes people react in such a way. We are faced with such great fear surrounding this pandemic that the only way to combat it is with the knowledge that can mediate this fear. While the relevance of fear is so strong in relation to the time at hand, all racism and hatred is, in my opinion, rooted in fear.

Rather than shut out the unknown, the community that I have at Yahel has inspired me to further explore the fears that I have and acquire the knowledge needed to mediate them. I hope, that during this tense time, we can all surround ourselves with those that foster growth in this way, rather than in the acceptance of fear.

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