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Anti-Asian Racism Reports Rise During Coronavirus Pandemic

Teran Powell
Lucky Liu’s, a Chinese and Japanese food restaurant in Milwaukee, recently closed its doors temporarily due to xenophobic attacks.";

The coronavirus began spreading rapidly in Wuhan, China, late last year and now affects thousands globally. There are currently more than 100,000 cases in the United States.

President Donald Trump has referred to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as the “Chinese virus." He insists it’s not racist to do so and that he’s just letting people know where the virus comes from.

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Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization in Washington D.C., tracks self-reported stories of anti-Asian racism. It has several recent reports of Asian Americans being bullied and verbally attacked by people who blame them for spreading COVID-19.

Lucky Liu’s, a Chinese-Japanese restaurant on Milwaukee's lower east side, recently closed its doors temporarily due to xenophobic attacks.

UWM history professor, Rachel Buff, says she's seen reports of upticks in anti-Asian racism. She recalls Weijia Jiang, an Asian American White House reporter, saying another White House official referred to the coronavirus as the "Kung-Flu" to her face. Buff says that struck her.

"What we've seen since 2016, is an amplification by which the sitting executives give direct ascent to white supremacist ideas, and then we see them become more and more common," Buff says, adding that doesn't mean this started in 2016. "But there's something really intense and different about having someone who represents our country, who says in front of reporters, 'No, I'm going to call it the Chinese virus.' That's very intense and it diffuses, I would say, around the country."

Buff considers this moment in time to be a period of "great reset." She says we're in a crisis, but we're seeing a lot of possibilities emerge that didn't seem likely a month ago.

"We're seeing states like Ohio and Massachusetts considering decarcerating many of the people they're holding because of the risk of contagion. We're seeing Congress consider expanding the social wage ... these are things that have been on the progressive agenda for a really long time but have not seemed possible."

But, Buff says some terrifying effects are possible as well — like division, militarization, and repression.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.


Teran Powell joined WUWM in the fall of 2017 as the station’s very first Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She became WUWM's race and ethnicity reporter in 2018.