• J. Faith Malicdem

The Yellow Peril: How the Coronavirus has shed light on Racism against Asian Americans


In approaching my own postmodernist work for my Ways of Seeing class last semester, I wanted to observe pastiche (a literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work) by imitating a typical newspaper format and collaging real headlines regarding the racism that Asian Americans have been faced with since the spread of Coronavirus, and the racism that came before the coining of the "Chinese virus."


The original newspaper I used for the project was actually the Berkeley Beacon's (Emerson's print publication) COVID-19 issue. The top two headlines were drawn from the newspaper directly. For the title of the newspaper, I wanted to find a historical racial slur used against Asians to encompass the entirety of the newspaper's coverage, and "The Yellow Peril" seemed fitting enough, considering how the Western European-coined term was a stereotype used to reference the existential danger and threat that East Asians posed.


The black and white photos used were pulled from Filipino lifestyle magazines laying around in my home. I thought they would be good for conveying a humanizing and personal element to Asian culture. The headlines outlined in red were articles I found on the PBS (The long history of racism against Asian Americans in the U.S.), New York Times (Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety) , Hollywood Reporter ("We Can't Be Silent": Asian Americans in Hollywood Denounce "Chinese Virus" and Racist Incidents), and CNN Philippines (How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Filipinos’ mental health) websites. They have all been published within the last two months, all featuring the ways Asians and Asian Americans are struggling with the repercussions of COVID-19 aside from the virus itself. The bottom right cutout of the Chinese Exclusion Act was drawn from my sister's third grade social studies textbook from five years ago. It was the only material I could find about Asian immigration to the U.S. in the entire book, which is very telling of the incorporation of Asian immigrants' impact on the development of the U.S. taught in historical contexts. In addition, I was able to dig up a Chinese New Year envelope gifted to me a few years ago, as well as an origami flower given to me by our local Japanese restaurant's owners. I thought the incorporation of the two would accompany the other mediums well in response to the overarching question at the bottom of the page: "What does this mean for us?" which implies that the collective "us" the newspaper is referring to is a nod to all Asians and Asian Americans in this time of crisis.


It is important to acknowledge the state of racism and prejudice Asians have faced in America, which has just recently boiled up to the surface because of COVID-19. As a ligher-skinned Filipino American, I recognize the privilege I exhibit due to the shade of my skin tone alone, as I've not once had to worry about the police treating me unfairly or my future being predetermined by a withholding stereotype. While Asians serve as the model minority and are able to observe more freedom and power than other minorities in Western society, there has undoubtedly been patterns of oppression and ignorance when considering the hardships and prejudices Asian Americans face time and time again-- whether it be comments made about being well-versed in mathematics for comedic relief, or being poked fun at for having hooded eyelids. Overachiever Magazine writer, Leia Oh, put my exact sentiment into words: "Many people believe that it’s not harmful because a lot of these stereotypes are 'positive,' but they strip us of our personality. It eliminates our individuality, which is dehumanizing and allows for our ostracization from American society." In this time, as acts of violence against Asian Americans and Asians in general are dishearteningly brought to light more often, I encourage you to spread love to your friends and loved ones of color. Support Chinese restaurants. Stream music by Asian Americans. Be on the lookout for acts of racism and look out for others. Most importantly, educate yourself. Be an ally.

If you or someone has faced prejudice or acts of racism because you are Asian or Pacific Islander, you can reach out to the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council to report the incident on their website, StopAAPIHate.

For more information on racial injustice amidst a global pandemic, visit Charity So White's website here to better understand the power and privilege conversation.

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