An Open Letter to Diaspora Desis Who Use “China Virus”

A picture of the WhatsApp logo (a chat bubble with a phone in it). A crude frowny face has been drawn over it in black
Image Source: Wikipedia, with edits from myself.

#StopAsianHate – from other Asians, too…

Stop.

I am speaking as a fellow member of the American diaspora, a second-generation Indian-American who is deeply connected to my roots in both countries. There is so much about the diaspora I love, especially the passion I see in emerging activist efforts. We are a vibrant and resilient community. And yet, when it comes to racism, our track record leaves so much room for improvement.

We have almost all experienced some form of discrimination based on our ethnic background before. It’s difficult not to, when you’re brown and first- or second-gen American. I remember being called dirty and illiterate when I was young. I remember the hurt I felt at being treated as suspicious, something foreign and filthy, by strangers and even classmates. I know that brand of trauma is not uncommon amongst the South Asian diaspora — so why are you turning around and doing the same thing to Chinese-Americans? Why are you sending racist WhatsApp forwards about the CCP’s supposed plot to subjugate the world through illness? Why do you casually throw around anti-Chinese slurs, and attempt to justify them by talking about the India-China border conflict? Why do you attempt to justify the fact that, in our ancestral land, Northeast Indian people have been subject to virulent virus-fuelled attacks based on the fact that they are mistaken for Chinese?

COVID-19 is not a political issue or an elaborate conspiracy theory. The people who are being harmed by “China virus” rhetoric aren’t nefarious politicians or dastardly double agents. They are ordinary Americans whose only perceived crime is to have East or Southeast Asian ancestry. In the wake of the Atlanta shooting, and the numerous attacks on elderly East and Southeast Asian-Americans which have occurred over the past few weeks, it’s clear how devastating the impact of “China virus” conspiracy theories can be. They directly contribute to the othering of anyone seen as ‘Chinese’, a situation which has led to fatal violence on multiple occasions.

Please, please stop participating in this culture of suspicion, derision, and bigotry. Putting down other minorities will not elevate us to safety. All that accomplishes is the reinforcement of white supremacy, as history has proven time and time again. After all, this same boiling animosity between groups who should be standing together is what fed into the Crown’s official takeover of India in 1857. “Without the existence of a large number of native troops, an army of Europeans could not move or subsist in the field…” wrote one British general on the necessity of dividing South Asians against each other in order to achieve ultimate victory.

Now, 163 years after that moment, comes our chance to change the narrative. Now is our chance to refuse participation in the dissemination of racist ideas. So next time you get a WhatsApp message about the “China virus”, stop before you hit the forward button. Don’t let white supremacy score another victory. Don’t propagate virulent racist language. And call COVID-19 what it is: a global virus, a virus which has devastated millions of lives from both our communities.

—Aditi Ramaswamy

Software engineer; emerging author; almost certainly not a changeling. I write about the uncomfortable parts of Indian & American history & culture.

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