• Creatively Asian

2020's "Yellow Peril"

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

To put it simply, the “Yellow Peril” is defined as a racial term that refers to East Asians as a threat to the Western society. In the 19th century, the term was coined to describe the impending danger of Chinese immigrants arriving in the U.S. to seize a chance at a better future. White Americans feared that immigrating Chinese citizens would mean that it would leave fewer jobs for them. Now, two centuries later, the effects of the “Yellow Peril” is still evident with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of fear, we become blind and tend to believe any information, reliable or not, that can explain our current circumstances. That is that case for Asian Americans with the recurring xenophobia against the community due to false information about the pandemic, or even out of pure racism. In a time of terror, the accusations against Asian Americans have become “normal,” but sometimes even overlooked. Now, the Asian American community not only has to be cautious about the virus affecting their everyday lives but also the continued harassment and assaults because of their race.


Although the virus is sometimes referred to as the “Chinese Virus”, the harassment extends to all ethnic origins from all over. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) lists reports of Anti-Asian Assaults, Harassments, and Hate Crimes from January 2020 to July 2020.

Here are some examples from that list:

  • February - In Pasadena, California, Chinese American actor Tzi Ma opens up about shopping at Whole Foods before a man drove by and yelled “You should be quarantined.”

  • February 13 - In Los Angeles, a 16-year-old student of Asian descent was taken to the hospital emergency room after being assaulted by classmates.

  • March 10 - Ed Park, a Korean man, wrote in The New Yorker magazine that “a young black man” told Ed to stay away from him and not get him sick, referring to him as Chinese.

  • March 23 - In Iowa, an Asian-American woman stood in line when a white couple said, “Oh gosh, not here” and left to another line.

  • March 24 - In San Francisco, a Filipino-American man was being yelled at using derogatory anti-Asian terms.

  • March 27 - A man of Korean descent in Indiana was denied access to a gas station and the gas station later told police that those of Chinese descent were not allowed any service in their store.

  • April 2 - A Vietnamese American man was walking his dog when a person yelled he “caused the coronavirus” and that he needed to leave.

  • April 8 - In Texas, a customer harassed staff of a Vietnamese restaurant to “Get out of our country.”

  • April 17- In Pennsylvania, an Asian-owned restaurant was vandalized with spray-paint of a racial slur.


What Does This Mean For Others Who Are Not Part Of The Asian-American Community?


In truth, you may think this has nothing to do with you and that when the pandemic is over, the harassment will cease as well. But before you choose to brush this off as just a moment in a time of panic, let it be a reminder that this is not the first time this has happened. In fact, this has happened all throughout the history of discrimination of minority groups due to an outbreak of a disease. The Jewish community has long been the scapegoat behind many different disease outbreaks dating all the way back to the bubonic plague. Due to religious disagreements and anti-semitism, many Jews were killed or burned alive. At the dawn of the 19th century, they were also blamed for being the carriers of tuberculosis and the disease was sometimes called the “Jewish disease,” almost identical to the coronavirus being named as the “Chinese disease.” During the major polio outbreak in New York City, Italians fell victim to the same condemnation and discrimination and were avoided at all cost, similar to how many people come to view peoples of Asian descent today. This doesn’t only apply to race or ethnic groups. During the AIDS pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community was blamed as well and those who were known homosexuals were denied access to testing and treatment centers, which was potentially endangering them of getting the proper treatment at the appropriate time. Let’s not forget about the hysteria that surrounded ebola and how several Nigerian applicants have rejected admission into Navarro College under the basis of ebola outbreaking in their home countries even though Nigeria hadn’t had a reported case in 21 days when the rejection letter had been sent out. This isn’t just a moment of hysteria but just another instance of a bigger issue that still hasn’t been addressed. So the question is, who’s to say you won’t be the next scapegoat for the next pandemic?

What Can You Do?

The little things can make a huge difference if everyone does it together:

  • Be aware of what information is accurate and which is hateful propaganda.

Most racism stems from ignorance and that can be combated by being more informed about the posts we see on social media or what our friends say about the issues.

  • Step in if you do see harassment taking place.

Whether it’d be against the Asian-American community or just harassment in general, ignoring the issue won’t solve the issue. You only push it onto someone else. We live in a society where we conform to what is socially acceptable. Make it known that what they are doing is wrong. Make it a precedent that racism and discrimination in any form is distasteful in a world that is starting a progressive movement.

  • Overall, treat everyone equally.

Don’t shudder away from a person due to the race they were born as. That way, we can all learn to become a society that accepts rather than one that separates aspects a person cannot control.


Written by Vivian Mai and edited by Mariel Bumanglag of the Writing Committee.