Kyle Navarro was kneeling down to unlock his bicycle when he noticed an older white man staring at him. Navarro, who is Filipino, tried to ignore him, but that soon became impossible.
The man walked by, looked back and called Navarro a racial slur. He “spat in my direction, and kept walking,” Navarro said.
Navarro, a school nurse in San Francisco, already had anxiety about racism related to the coronavirus, which emerged in China and has Asian people facing unfounded blame and attacks as it has spread worldwide. Now, he was outraged.
“My first instinct was to yell back at him in anger. But, after taking a breath, I realized that would have put me in danger,” Navarro said.
Instead, he took to Twitter last week to turn the ugly moment into an opportunity for a conversation about racism, generating thousands of sympathetic comments.
Asian Americans are using social media to organize and fight back against racially motivated attacks during the pandemic, which the FBI predicts will increase as infections grow. A string of racist run-ins in the last two weeks has given rise to hashtags – #WashTheHate, #RacismIsAVirus, #IAmNotCOVID19 – and online forums to report incidents. Critics say President Donald Trump made things worse by calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.”
For a group with a history of being scapegoated – from Japanese Americans detained during World War II to a Chinese American man killed by autoworkers angry about Japanese competition in the '80s – there's urgency to drown out both bigotry and apathy.
To that end, the California-based groups Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council set up a hate reporting center last month. New York's attorney general also launched a hotline.
“We kind of just knew from history this was going to snowball,” said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action. “With the rising stress and anxiety, we knew we'd see a rise in hate incidents.”
The center has fielded more than 1,000 reports from across the U.S., ranging from people spitting to throwing bottles from cars. An FBI report distributed to local law enforcement predicts the attacks will surge and pointed to the stabbing of an Asian American man and his two children at a Sam's Club in Texas last month, ABC News reported. According to the report, the 19-year-old suspect said he thought they were “infecting people.” The victims have recovered.
Amid the explosive climate, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang drew backlash for urging fellow Asian Americans to display more “American-ness.” In a Washington Post editorial Wednesday, he called on them to avoid confrontation and do acts of goodwill like volunteering and helping neighbors.
“Being 'the good Asian' has not fared well for Asian Americans,” Choi said. “We don't have to prove our worth and that we belong, that we're exceptional. And we certainly don't have to believe that this is something that we should ignore.”