There’s a meme going around with the words, “Thanks for the Coronavirus.” It’s written over a picture of the school where I teach. Our population is roughly 60% Asian.
Four weeks ago, before the real hysteria set in, one of my students was shopping, minding her own business. A stranger walked by her and said, in her direction, “Hey, Coronavirus.” She’s Vietnamese. And heartbroken.
On the last day of school, during my first-period class, one of my Chinese students said, “Italy hates China. The whole world hates China.” And he shrugged his shoulders like it was a natural reaction. That broke my heart.
It’s one thing to understand that the first known case of COVID-19 occurred in China in November 2019. It’s another to take that information and allow it to create widespread xenophobia. All of my students, regardless of race, are scared of the horrific potential this virus poses.
I understand why people meet fear with hate. I understand how uncertainty can scare people so deeply that the only response they can muster is anger. I also understand how the possibility of isolation can cause people to act irrationally, hoarding basic necessities and putting their own needs about others’.
But these times of fear, uncertainty, and sickness deserve better. Our babies deserve better. We need to show them better.
As a country, we sat and watched as COVID-19 ravaged China, with social media playing the essential role in creating viral videos. Then, we sat and watched as it ravaged Italy, more quickly than we could imagine. And now it’s here, in the United States. And we have some choices to make.
I propose we choose love and kindness in the face of fear and uncertainty.
How do we do this? In small, simple steps.
Rather than attacking each other for stocking up on toilet paper and hand soap, we can recognize and understand that fear is driving many to act this way. Rather than scolding the 20-somethings for continuing to go out to bars and clubs when we are supposed to be practicing social distancing, we can remember our 20s (when we thought we were invincible and nothing, not even a virus, could stop us) while at the same time strongly encouraging them to heed the warnings set forth by the CDC. Rather than shunning those of Asian descent, we can recognize that they are as scared of this new virus as non-Asians.
People are people. I can disagree with what people are doing without attacking them. I can use moments when I feel anger growing inside me in response to other peoples’ actions as learning opportunities. I don’t have to meet anger with anger or fear with fear. I can meet both with love and kindness.
This isn’t easy. Mostly because I, too, am angry and scared and sad. I want to go back to normal. Unfortunately, it looks like this is the new normal, at least for a little while. As uncomfortable as I am, I can’t take that out on others. And while I’m happy that everyone has a newfound love for handwashing, I’d like to encourage a love for kindness, compassion, and love itself.
How else are we to get through this?