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What It Feels Like When Trump Calls COVID-19 the 'China Virus'

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The first time I heard the term “China Virus,” I cringed. As a trained scientist, I have a firm understanding that viruses and quite frankly, any disease that afflicts the human body, does not have a relation to race or ethnicity. Sure, some diseases disproportionately affect certain sectors of the population over others, but a lot of that has to do with nurture and environment (I’ll save the nature versus nurture debate for another piece.) However, when it comes to a viral particle or bacterial species, the last I checked, they had no understanding of the color of our skin or the origin of our families.

When I heard the term “China Virus,” I want to crawl out of my skin. As a young, Chinese woman living in America, who identifies as American, hearing my country’s president call the virus causing a global pandemic the “China Virus” — as recently as today — hurts. In calling the novel coronavirus the “China Virus,” the president puts lives at risk.

This isn’t an exaggeration. More than 800 anti-Asian American hate incidents related to COVID-19 were reported across in California in three months. Nationally, you can read a list of incidents here, which, as a content warning, includes reports of physical attacks and verbal harassment.

I remember the first time I heard this phrase, I was hesitant to step outside of the safety of my apartment. When I was forced to venture out into public, I had nasty looks cast my way from people on the streets and in the store I went into. I had people tell me to return to my country, blaming me for bringing upon them this horrible pandemic.

The term “China Virus” is hurtful for many reasons, and these reasons may differ for every self-identifying Chinese or Chinese American living in the United States. As an immigrant, I have been incredibly fortunate to have been raised in America and received an education here. I have chosen to make America my home because of how welcoming the country and its citizens have been and the opportunities it has afforded me. Yet when I hear the term “China Virus” thrown around in the media and being taken to heart by millions of individuals, I get a tinge of fear that all the hard work and dedication I have put into building a life in America will be taken away. I wonder, if the president can nonchalantly politicize a virus to identify one sector of the American population, what else can be taken away from me in a moments notice?

Above all, above the fear that is instilled in me when this phrase is used, beyond the looks I receive from fellow citizens, it angers me. Every time I hear the phrase tossed around, it makes my blood boil. Sometimes it is hard for me to pinpoint why it angers me so much, but it does. I think that the phrase angers me because it isolates me from my country. I think the phrase angers me because the term is not based in science. I think the phrase angers me because it puts my safety in danger. The term “China Virus” angers me because it undermines my two of my fundamental identities: I am Chinese American and a scientist.

Please remember that this novel coronavirus should not be labelled in any way, shape or form. The only label that this virus deserves is that it is a virus. Please remember to call this novel virus by its proper name: COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus. When you don’t, you put my life and the lives of others in danger of experiencing more hate — and we’re just trying to get through the pandemic like everyone else. 

Originally published: July 30, 2020
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