I remember the look of disgust across people’s faces as I sat in the New York City Subway with my family. I was six years old, living in Queens as a Pakistani Muslim.
In 2006, many New Yorkers were cruel to people with brown skin. It was five years after President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act in response to the September 11 attacks.
The law gave many agencies the power to investigate and interview Arabs and other Muslims across the United States. The NYPD engaged in their own investigation with the Intelligence Division and gathered thousands of daily reports on innocent Muslims’ lives.
Now you might wonder if no one is arrested — what’s the harm in all of this?
Widespread spying creates fear among Muslims and makes them question whether their mosque is indeed a place of refuge. This fear has continued as my uncle who lived in Coachella Valley had to watch his mosque burn down in 2016 after one man threw a Molotov cocktail inside.
Fear and panic spreads ignorance and creates a vast amount of misinformation. Philosopher George Santayana’s words ring true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading across the world, and many Americans are panicking. The virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, and the vast majority of cases are in China.
In the U.S., there are 512 cases of COVID-19, but something else is spreading across the country — xenophobia towards Asian Americans.
Fox news personality Jesse Watters demanded on-air that China issues a formal apology for the virus and added that the virus started in China “because they have these markets where they are eating raw bats and snakes.” Statements like this have made many people look at Asian Americans the same way they looked at me when I was a child.
One man, Kao Lor, was traveling in Indiana when he stopped to check in at a Super 8 Motel in Plymouth. The employee at the front desk asked if Lor was Chinese and refused to give him a room, according to a video recorded by Lor.
Lor was denied entry because of panic surrounding the coronavirus and was denied again at a Days Inn close by when another employee said the hotel was not allowing any Asians to stay.
The outbreak isn’t limited to nor can be blamed on Asian people, yet they’re being denied the right to stay at hotels and are being denigrated by public media. On Sunday, March 1, the New York Post released a story on Manhattan’s first coronavirus case but used a picture of an Asian man wearing a face mask in Flushing, Queens.
These incidents do nothing but add to the spread of prejudiced beliefs towards Asian Americans. One would think that news outlets would be more careful to ensure an accurate and fair portrayal of Asians and Asian Americans.
America touts itself as the land of the free, home of the brave, but is it really deserving of that title?
Minority groups continue to get marginalized, and the country’s biggest leaders continue to sweep it under the rug.
In times of panic, it’s important to put aside your biases and strive for unity rather than division. We need to do better, so more minority children and adults don’t remember the cold faces of strangers passing by.
We need to be better.