- Elizabeth OuYangformer president of OCA-New York, a civil rights organization, where she advocated for victims of hate crimes and fair media representation of Asian Americans. She is a civil rights attorney and community advocate who teaches at Columbia and New York University.
“I would like to begin by announcing some important developments in our war against the Chinese virus. I will be invoking the Defense Production Act just in case we need it.” That was the opening line of President Trump’s news conference Wednesday afternoon. Later in the news conference, Trump was questioned by ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega on continuously referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” A member of the administration also reportedly referred to the coronavirus as the “kung-flu.” Meanwhile, racist incidents and threats of hate crimes against Asian Americans have emerged across the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We get response from Elizabeth OuYang, the former president of OCA-New York, a civil rights organization where she advocated for victims of hate crimes and fair media representation of Asian Americans. She is a civil rights attorney and community advocate who teaches at Columbia and New York University.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would like to begin by announcing some important developments in our war against the Chinese virus. We will be invoking the Defense Production Act just in case we need it.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the opening line of President Trump’s news conference about coronavirus on Wednesday. Later in the conference, he was questioned by ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega.
CECILIA VEGA: Why do you keep calling this the “Chinese virus”? There are reports of dozens of incidents of bias against Chinese Americans in this country. Your own aide, Secretary Azar, says he does not use this term. He says ethnicity does not cause the virus. Why do you keep using this?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because it comes from China.
CECILIA VEGA: A lot of people say it’s racist.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s not racist at all. No, not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. Comes from China. I want to be accurate.
CECILIA VEGA: And no concerns about Chinese Americans in this country?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, please, John? Please.
CECILIA VEGA: To the aides behind you, are you comfortable with this term?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I have a great — I have great love for all of the people from our country, but, as you know, China tried to say at one point — maybe they stopped now — that it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen. It’s not going to happen, not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.
AMY GOODMAN: “It comes from China,” he said. PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor also questioned Trump at his news conference.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: There are some — at least one White House official who used the term “kung flu,” referring to the fact that this virus started in China. Is that acceptable? Is it wrong? Are you worried that having this virus be talked about as a “Chinese virus,” that that might focus —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I wonder who said that. Do you know who said that?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: I’m not sure of the person’s name. But would you condemn the fact that “kung flu” —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Say the term again.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: A person at the White House used the term “kung-flu.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, just the term.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: My question is —
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: “Kung flu.”
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Do you think that’s wrong? “Kung flu.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And do you think using the term “Chinese virus,” that puts Asian Americans at risk, that people might target them?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, not at all. No, not at all. I think they probably would agree with it 100%. It comes from China.
AMY GOODMAN: Yamiche Alcindor was referring to an incident reported by CBS White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, who describes herself in her Twitter profile as a “Chinese born West Virginian.” She tweeted on Tuesday, “This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the 'Kung-Flu' to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back,” she said.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Elizabeth OuYang, the former president of OCA-New York, a civil rights group, where she advocated for victims of hate crimes and fair media representation of Asian Americans; civil rights attorney; community advocate, who teaches at Columbia and New York University.
Liz, thanks so much for joining us. Can you respond to President Trump repeatedly saying this, calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus”?
ELIZABETH OUYANG: Certainly. There’s a big difference in saying that the virus originated in China versus calling it a “Chinese virus.” By calling it a “Chinese virus,” it is implying, for people who have limited interaction with persons of Asian descent and information about how this virus is spread, that it’s people who are Chinese, or they think are Chinese, who have this virus. And this leads to a domino effect of both economic ostracization as well as social ostracization, that leads to people not going to Chinese business establishments because they’re afraid that they have the virus, or it — on the other extreme, it leads to hate crimes, that we’ve seen, you know, from California to New York, whether it be cars being vandalized and racist graffiti scrawled all over the cars or actual physical assaults of women and men of Asian descent who people think may have the virus because they are Asian, and they’re attacked, kicked, sprayed with things on the subway, all these things.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas quick to defend President Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus.”
SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, I think China is to blame, because the culture where people eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that, these viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people. And that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses, like SARS, like MERS, the swine flu.
AMY GOODMAN: Critics say Senator Cornyn wasn’t just being openly racist, he’s also bad at geography. MERS stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. And the swine flu originated in the United States in 2009, before spreading around the world, according to the CDC. So, Liz OuYang, if you can talk about — further about what this means, especially as this pandemic rips through this country?
ELIZABETH OUYANG: People need to understand that pandemics and novel pathogens could come from barns of a state fair or the Astroturf of a college football field. And so, when so-called leaders defend this irresponsible — these irresponsible statements, it further fuels divisiveness and misguided information, and takes us away from where we need to be focused, and that is, helping people most vulnerable in getting the disease, elderly or people with respiratory illnesses, and making sure that they’re protected.
I’ve never been to Wuhan. And, you know, I am as frightened as my non-Asian neighbors, non-Asian-American neighbors, as well, of the disease. And we need to unite together to fight it, and not scapegoat a minority of color for this illness. As your previous speaker said, this pandemic goes beyond borders, has no racial exclusivity to it. People of all races, unfortunately, are coming down with it. And if you think only people of Chinese descent have it or may have it, then you miss the white lawyer from Miami who came to — who flew to New York and was infected.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much, Elizabeth OuYang, for joining us, former president of OCA-New York, advocate for victims of hate crimes and fair media representation of Asian Americans.
And that does it for our broadcast. I want to thank the incredibly dedicated team of Democracy Now!, most of whom are working from their homes in self-isolation. This is a very difficult time, but they are every day devoted to producing this stellar newscast, Democracy Now! Thank you to them all.