Former President Donald Trump was often criticized over the last year for his use of the phrase “China virus” to refer to the novel coronavirus, the virus that causes Covid-19. Trump would often employ the phrase in official communications via his Twitter account. It was also picked up by right-wing news outlets like Fox News, which have designed their coverage to explicitly blame the Chinese government for the pandemic and its effects on American life.
Amid all this, human rights groups have expressed concern that the use of the phrase would contribute to an uptick in anti-Asian violence with numerous places around the country reporting random attacks against Asian citizens. A national conversation on anti-Asian violence has taken center-stage again since authorities arrested a gunman who shot and killed eight people and injured one at three Atlanta-area spas. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.
In the wake of the shooting, Representative Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) has criticized Trump for emboldening racists and stoking violence.
“When I first heard the former president use words like ‘kung flu’ and ‘Chinese virus,’ I was really horrified. And every time he said it, I thought, okay, this will be the last time. He couldn’t possibly continue to use it,” Meng said during an appearance on former President Bill Clinton’s “Why Am I Telling You This?” podcast earlier today.
“And even the WHO, the World Health Organization, even his own secretary of health suggested that we don’t use words like that, but he continued, and so, while racially motivated harassment of Asian Americans is a longstanding issue and certainly didn’t start last year. But since COVID-19 began, the incidents have been nonstop,” she added.
Meng said Trump’s actions contributed to the spike in anti-Asian violence because “when you have a leader in this country who has a tremendous platform, use words and fuel false facts and misinformation about the virus and it’s perpetuated by the leaders, the top leaders of the Republican party in the White House and in the Congress, what happens is people, Asian Americans are getting shoved, assaulted, spat on.”
Meng described incidents of anti-Asian violence in her neighborhood in New York. (She represents New York’s sixth congressional district, in Queens.)
“Just two days ago in a park right near my house, a mom was out with her baby and a man came up to her, spat at her direction three times in front of her baby and said, ‘Chinese virus go home,’” she said. “And this happened five, 10 minutes from my house. So as a parent, as a mom, it just breaks my heart to have had to talk to my kids about this. I got to middle school kids and it scares me. It makes me angry and it just stems from false information and cowardly acts.”
Alan is a writer, editor, and news junkie based in New York.