By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
The reports are out there. A student in Singapore beaten. A Vietnamese curator excluded from an art event in London. In New York, an Asian sprayed with air freshener. Another kicked in the back. Another punched in the face. Close to home, an Issaquah man of mixed race told by a Costco employee to “get away” from the food samples. University of Washington students being harassed, sometimes multiple times in a day, and told to wear face masks. The message: the coronavirus is your fault. The fault of Asians. And thus, the fault of Asian Americans.
The #WashTheHate campaign, launched on March 18, aims to “combat the rising tide of hatred.” Formed by IW Group, an Asian American communications agency, and Asian American artists, leaders, and influencers, the hashtag campaign gives victims a voice, raises awareness, and presents a united front against racism related to the coronavirus. The Weekly corresponded with several key players in the campaign about what prompted them to start the campaign, and what we can do to help.
“Get on social media and let the world know this racism is unacceptable. None of these acts of violence will change the outcome of the spread of this virus,” said actor Tzi Ma, participant in the campaign and victim of racism. Ma, famous for his roles in “Rush Hour” and, more recently, “The Farewell,” was standing at a Whole Foods store when someone yelled at him to get into quarantine.
Actress Celia Au, seen in “Wu Assassins” and “Lodge 49,” has many friends who “have been sharing stories that are equally horrible and scary…I’ve heard about people enduring verbal and physical abuse for wearing a mask, not wearing a mask, and often, just being of Asian descent.”
Telly Wong, IW Group’s chief content officer, said it brought to mind the xenophobia and hatred directed towards people from the Middle East and South Asia after 9-11. It was Wong and IW Group who came up with #WashTheHate.
“Our team was disturbed by the growing number of violent assaults and hate crimes against Asian Americans as the coronavirus began to spread throughout the United States. We were in a unique position to help bring like-minded people together in order to raise awareness about this issue.”
They created a webpage, washthehate.com, and have put out a call for videos in which participants are asked to record themselves washing their hands (has to be long enough to sing “Happy Birthday”), while sharing stories about how they have been impacted by the virus. The videos are then posted on social media, with the #WashTheHate hashtag, and the links are shared with the campaign.
Ma and others spearheading the campaign have already made theirs.
“Hate will get you sick. Even if the virus doesn’t,” Ma says while washing his hands. “A time like this is not the time to discriminate,” reminds Au in her 20-second video. “The virus definitely doesn’t.”
“We’d like the Asian American community to share their stories on social media and ask the broader community to watch and share them. We’re trying to use transparency to combat misinformation,” said Wong. “Please spread the word,” urged Au. “In this time of crisis, the only way we can get better is by working together.
Practice tolerance. Practice empathy…We can only defeat COVID-19 by remaining united.”
The president’s insistence on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” doesn’t help. But there are ways to fight words with better words.
“Rally rights groups of all ethnicities to condemn and stem racist rhetoric, especially from our so-called leaders,” said Ma. “Call them out on it. Hold them accountable.”
“We’ve seen this before during the AIDS crisis in the 90’s, when gay men were targeted as the cause and reason for the spread of HIV, and we know that not to be true,” continued Au. “So, why does this discrimination persist?
Partly because it comes from our leadership, whether they are complicit in their speech or silence. It is their responsibility to proactively educate the public that these behaviors and actions are not right.”
IW Group and others leading the campaign have been directly affected by the shutdowns enacted to stop the spread of the virus, the stalled movie launches and the closed cinemas.
“Our clients include every major studio in Hollywood, so these delays have directly impacted our agency,” Wong shared. Ma, who stars in the much-anticipated live action version of “Mulan,” now postponed, said, “It’s right and the responsible thing to do. Audiences will see our film and will enjoy it later.”
While we wait, Ma suggested ways to support art and artists. “Enjoy all the shows we’ve worked on, on all the streaming services, if you haven’t seen it, or see it again. Search for your favorite AAPI actors, writers, and directors. You will find many. Alan Yang’s film, and his directorial debut, will be on Netflix on April 10. Streaming it in huge numbers will ensure more storytelling from our talented artists.”
Au commented on the unsettling news that doctors and nurses are running out of resources and supplies.
“They are our saviors, fighting an invisible enemy…How can we get them what they so desperately need? We need to protect our guardian angels, because if they are not healthy and safe, how can we possibly expect them to protect and help us?”
In a time of fear, people lash out. For some, a time like this is an opportunity to flaunt feelings they’ve harbored all along. And like Ma said, we can “call them out on it.” For others, the hate is a wild and impersonal thing. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
“People need to consider what would happen if tables were turned,” said Au. “What if you were being attacked based on culture or ethnicity? Would you be OK with this? If not, then why cause this to others?”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.