Expert Pitch
Binghamton University, State University of New York

Avoiding Chinese restaurants due to unfounded association with coronavirus is latest example of racist consumer behavior against Asians and Asian Americans

Avoiding Chinese restaurants due to an unfounded association with the coronavirus is the latest example of racist consumer behavior against Asians and Asian Americans, according to Robert Ji-Song Ku, chair and associate professor in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York. 

"As the reported cases of COVID-19 increase throughout the United States with expanded testing, it is not surprising that many people have begun to take precautionary measures, even in places that have for the moment no reported cases, such as the Southern Tier of New York. Indeed, it is not only prudent but essential that everyone follow to the best of their ability the recommended precautions outlined by the CDC and other reliable health and government agencies. With no vaccines or cures yet available, it is crucial that every individual do what they can to slow the spread of COVID-19 by frequently washing hands, practicing sensible social distancing, staying home when flu-like symptoms arise, and avoiding unnecessary travel, to cite just a few preventative measures.

"What is categorically unhelpful and even harmful during this confusing times is to irrationally scapegoat a particular racial or ethnic group, namely Asians and Asian Americans. With reports of wider COVID-19 spread has seen the rise of hostile behavior against Asians and Asian Americans, and in particular against people perceived to be Chinese. The range of such cases include minor microaggressions, such leering looks, as many Asians have been subject to, to outright racist behavior, such as referring to the virus as the Chinese virus or Wuhan virus, as a number of politicians have done over Twitter and television interviews. 

"Among the hardest hit by the irrational affiliation of COVID-19 to Asian people have been Chinese restaurants, which number anywhere between 40,000 to 50,000 in the United States. While the restaurant industry has experienced an overall downturn in business regardless of the type of food served, it appears that Chinese restaurants have suffered disproportionally. This is true for not only major Asian enclaves, such as Chinatowns in New York City and San Francisco, but also in areas with smaller Asian American populations, such as the Southern Tier of New York.

"The scapegoating and baseless stigmatization of Chinese restaurants is not new. Since the nineteenth century, Chinese restaurants have been an easy target for many Americans seeking to find someone to blame during challenging social and economic conditions. For generations, Chinese restaurants have frequently been stereotyped as unsanitary, unhealthy, and unsavory. To cite just a handful of examples, in the early 1900s, rumors of Chinese restaurants serving unsuspecting white customers dogs, cats, rats and other “mystery” meats ran rampant. In the 1970s, Chinese restaurants were singled out for admonishment for selling MSG-laden food when nearly all American fast-food establishments and mass-produced foods, such as canned and frozen foods, relied heavily on MSG to flavor their products. 

"Today’s irrational and unfounded association of COVID-19 with Chinese restaurants is the latest example of racist consumer behavior against Asians and Asian Americans. To avoid eating out due to fears of exposure is perhaps not unreasonable during these confusing times. But to single out Chinese restaurants as the harbinger of COVID-19 is not only unreasonable but irrefutably racist."

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