In March, 2020, Boston University switched to online teaching due to Covid-19. Some of the music faculty were invited to share their experiences with this new online format. After weeks of writing about the challenges adapting to technology and modifications to my teaching curriculum, the impact of the pandemic hit me on a more personal level, compelling me to share the following post:
An Asian American friend of mine was walking on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge when an older white man spat at her. A colleague of mine, when referring to the progress made in China concerning Covid-19, said to me “you and your people”. Though well-intentioned, I felt as if I had been spat on. In the eyes of my esteemed co-worker, I, like many Asian Americans, am a perpetual foreigner. When one thinks of racism, Asians tend to be low on the list. For some, we are the “model minority”, with many holding jobs as doctors, scientists, engineers. Comments like “Of course she’s a good student, she’s Chinese”, is insulting because it does not recognize the individual. Clumping of an ethnic group is unconscious bias, and compliment or not, it is a form of racism.
This is a country built on racism. Native Americans suffered injustices by the settlers, Africans were put in chattled slavery, Middle Easterners were profiled post 9/11 and Latinos are currently targeted because of our president’s current immigration policies. Asians have historically suffered from discrimination as well, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (repealed as late as 1943), the slaughter of Chinese miners in 1885, the Japanese internment camps of 1942-46, and now Covid-19. All of these ethnic groups make up the United States of America.
Since March 19, there have been over 1500 reported incidents of coronavirus discrimination against Asians. That number is increasing by more than 100 per day. Some stores will not serve an Asian with a mask unless they take off their mask, proving they aren’t sick. Some hotels will not accept anyone Asian. 61% of the incidents involve Asians of non-Chinese descent. One may think this discussion has no place in this blogging space, however as one of the few Asians on the faculty in the CFA, I want to bring awareness to the rest of our faculty. In the School of Music, a large percentage of our student body is Asian. With social distancing, our students have lost their physical community. They run their errands alone, they walk on the streets alone. Worry of getting the virus is compounded by the fear of racially motivated assault. With government officials condoning rhetoric like “Kung Flu” and “Chinese virus”, many in our society have no compass for decency.
I was guilty of not speaking up. I let my colleague’s comment go unchecked. At the time I chalked it up to unconscious bias. But it was a wake up call that racism runs deep. The only way to change ignorance is to be an educator–an “upstander”, not just a bystander. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth, check in with those who may be victimized, and show your support, even through remote means.