“People react to fear in different ways and unfortunately, sometimes it’s hate.”
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the Asian community in South Africa has become subject to discrimination and racial slurs stemming from misinformed stigmas surrounding the virus.
Covid-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China, and due to its origin, the Asian community has been stigmatized as carriers of the virus, as well as blamed for its existence entirely.
Various members of the South African Asian community, which according to Stats SA, makes up approximately 2.6% of the total population, have reported incidents of racism linked to Covid-19.
Erwin Pon, Chairman of the Chinese Association of Gauteng, said that there has been an upsurge of anti-Asian sentiments since January.
“There has been two types of anti-Asian sentiments. The first one that we saw was online and the second one, which was less frequent, was physical.”
Winnie Chen Dong, a Bedfordview resident, has personally experienced discrimination due to the outbreak of Covid-19. She said that although racism isn’t new to her, “things just got much worse” after the outbreak.
She recalled one such incident at Park Meadows Shopping Centre in Kensington where a man accused her of “bringing the virus to the country”. After she responded, he became physically violent.
“He came forward to push me and I screamed, then all of the shop workers were pushing him back out of the store,” she said.
Verbal insults often include references to the virus in order to express hate towards Asian individuals.
Rebecca Tsay, a twenty-three-year-old medical student at the University of Pretoria, said, “People react to fear in many different forms and unfortunately, sometimes it’s hate.”
“At Ultra this year, my siblings and a group of friends experienced a guy saying ‘coronavirus’ to their face, as if we brought it to this country,” she said.
According to Pon, the misinformed stigma around the Asian community and Covid-19 has had negative impacts on Asian-owned businesses.
“Asian businesses have been affected way before the lockdown. In January, we started seeing a decline in people visiting Chinese restaurants,” said Pon.
Emma Chen, the owner of a restaurant called Red Chamber shared Pon’s sentiments.
“We saw a substantial drop of turnover in February, which is due to the association of ‘Chinese virus’ and Chinese restaurant.”
Additionally, subtle gestures have made Asian South Africans feel ostracized when out in public.
Tzung Hui Lauren Lee, a twenty-one-year-old fine art student at the University of Witwatersrand, said, “I get disgusted looks and I can tell people stop breathing when I walk past them in case they may contract the virus from me.”
The radical increase of racial discrimination against the Asian community has made negative psychological impacts, with some fearful for their physical wellbeing.
Clarissa Leo, a fourth-year medical student at Stellenbosch University, said, “I’ve noticed an increase in anxiety when going out in public spaces.
Adding,”I started to carry a pepper spray with me in case I am put in a situation where I need to defend myself.”
FEATURED IMAGE: The Chinese Association Building. Photo: Provided.
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