Covid Conflicts

Staffers discuss prevalent social conflicts stemming from the Covid-19 outbreak

Despite the differences between the individuals most affected by the pandemic, those that can take action need to do whatever they can to lighten the load for the most vulnerable. Whether it’s regarding racial tension or income inequality, change needs to occur in both social and political spheres.

Racial Conflict:

Time and time again in America’s past, life-altering conflicts have caused radical social unrest: World War I caused an exponential growth in consumerism and feminist movements; the Cold War caused an anti-communist hysteria; World War II caused the inhumane Japanese internment camps. 

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, I cannot help but think that we are currently living in one of those events — and our response to it will be written in history books.

Currently, this reaction is looking a bit grim. Whether it be President Trump’s disappointing tweet designating COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” or the somber viral video of an Asian man being assaulted and told to “go back to China,” it seems as if the social movement that will come out of our situation may be an rise in xenophobia and hate crimes against Asians – particularly Chinese Americans. Not only is the recent increase in COVID-19 racism harmful, the tendency for some to group Asian Americans as the “root” of the virus points to a broader societal issue that must be addressed.

It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed on Chinese people. Even our own president has used rhetoric to suggest it – repeatedly referring to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus.” This has caused a fear of Asian Americans — which has intensified into serious and often life-threatening attacks.

In Texas, a 19-year-old man stabbed 2 adults and 2 children, including a Burmese father and his children, aged 2 and 6, who he believed to be Chinese. In Naperville, a Chinese American man was attacked by two women while jogging, who threw a log at him, spat on him, accused him of carrying the virus, and told him to “go back to China.” These incidents, and countless others around the country, prove how severe this fear and hatred against Asian Americans is.

Yes, as far as we know, COVID-19 started in Wuhan. But when people begin generalizing all Chinese people — and even all East Asian people — as the cause of the virus, and when this generalization turns into violent and harmful action, it needs to end. 

The virus was not caused by a race of people. While it was severely worsened by an initial attempt to cover it up, the cover-up and the additional deaths it may have caused are a fault of China’s authoritarian government, not Chinese people or Chinese Americans. The fact that people are unable to differentiate between the two points to a systematic issue: Asian Americans aren’t and have never been seen as fully American. Instead, they are ostracized and cast as different. 

Asian Americans are commonly painted as the “model minority” — the racial minority that has achieved success, overcome racism and embodied the “American dream.” While this title seems great, it also means that racism against Asian Americans is commonly ignored or denied, despite its continued prevalence. The racism we see today as a side effect of COVID-19 is no different. It is repeatedly downplayed, or, even worse, defended. 

In order to begin to solve the racial issues that run rampant in our society, we must first come to terms with the fact that they exist. There are still internal prejudices and tendencies to see minorities as less “American,” even the supposed elite model minority.

The way to combat this isn’t to appease those who hold these beliefs, as former presidential candidate Andrew Yang argued when he urged Asian Americans to prove their willingness to fight for their country as a response to xenophobia. Asian Americans hold no obligation to prove their “American-ness,” just as white Americans hold no such obligation. Doing so only feeds into the belief that Asian Americans are not American and must work for their American title.

The way to combat such systematic racism is to attack ignorance by promoting education and inclusivity for all Americans. This means encouraging the age-old idea that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of race, and that being “American” entails no specific skin color or appearance.

As a nation, we have again and again struggled to overcome our differences and band together; an urgent time like this calls for just that. Instead of playing a blaming game, it’s high time that we find unity in our collective struggle. 

As this virus continues into the next few months or maybe even longer, I hope that we are strong enough to do so.

Income Inequality:

A little over two months ago, COVID-19 was nothing less than a distant problem occuring in nations on the other side of the globe. As the pandemic set into the United States and government officials took measures to shut down the nation to prevent further transmission, the positive and negative effects of the shutdown have been felt by all.

Even though the subsequent impact on standardized tests, summer programs, classes and celebrations like graduation cannot be ignored, the most important casualties remain the livelihoods, and even lives, of low-income workers nationwide. These losses caused by shutdowns manifest in ways that hurt individual workers, local businesses and the economy overall. 

For example, in the last week of March, a record of 7.5 million people filed for unemployment benefits. Those that haven’t been laid off to preserve business income have been forced to continue to go to work for their paychecks despite social distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place measures taking place nationwide. The fact that these problems might be compounded by a long-term economic recession caused by the impacts of coronavirus makes the situation much more dire. 

In an economy as globally connected and volatile as today, it is no longer okay for large economic disparities to exist between the top 1% and those living paycheck-to-paycheck. 

The government can take action to fix the worst effects of this crisis and prevent future ones by widening the public safety net and ensuring greater benefits for the low-income workers that have been proven to be very essential to this nation. 

This should begin with making the stimulus payment checks permanent and inclusive of a larger group of people, like those anticipating a loss of income in 2020. The program could also include benefits like a higher minimum wage and more benefits for the obviously essential low-wage workers.

Though this may expand governmental responsibility and spending on welfare programs, I believe that it is worth it in the long term for two reasons. First, nothing should be more important to a government than the protection of its citizens. If increasing spending can provide that, it is the government’s responsibility to do so. Furthermore, economic theories support that an increase in the national debt will not be as harmful to the economy as some think. 

We are already seeing the government take action to cut some of these losses by passing one of the largest economic relief programs in history to help workers and businesses alike. The benefits, which included up to 600 extra dollars in monthly unemployment checks were also meant to encourage non-essential low wage workers to stay home as much as possible. 

As part of the recently passed relief package, individual adults earning less than $75,000 were slated to receive a check of $1,200 to offset losses related to COVID-19. It’s true that we can’t personally fund those checks, but that doesn’t mean we as a nation can’t or shouldn’t take steps to help the crisis. 

While I applaud the bipartisan nature of the negotiations of this bill and the speed with which it was passed through Congress, I firmly believe that it is an institutional failure that caused those wage disparities in the first place, and that is why the government needs to take further action as soon as possible. 

Such an ideology may seem to come straight out of a post from a social activism account on Instagram, but I believe that this crisis — and the people forced to remain outside for the sake of the nation as millions of others self-isolate — have warranted that consideration.

Making conscious changes to help restore the lives of those most hurt by the coronavirus can not only restore the social connections lost through quarantine, but also preserve the lives of the workers that work hard to ensure quality services for those who can afford to stay home, during and after the pandemic.

At some point, this pandemic and its restrictions will have to end. When that occurs, we should make sure to come out of it as a more connected and caring community, with social and economic stability for everyone. Government officials, first and foremost, have a responsibility to lead by example, ensuring that everyone is protected and treated fairly. 

But it’s not just the government’s responsibility to enact change. If everyday Americans work to find similarities between themselves and their community, we can better protect those most affected by this virus. 

It’s often said that a crisis brings out the true colors in someone, but we refuse to believe that these are America’s true colors. In a time like this, it’s more important than ever to band together and overcome our differences rather than tearing each other apart.