Language Matters: How Trump wielded his words against Asian Americans

Photo By: Kathryn Stone

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Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a rise in anti-Asian xenophobia and hate. According to an analysis from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by nearly 150 percent in 2020. Many of them referenced the coronavirus, with attackers yelling things like “You are the virus” or “Go back to China” to their victims.

Words matter, especially when they come from people in positions of great influence. While politicians and celebrities spoke out against this rise in anti-Asian violence, former president Donald Trump continued his anti-Asian rhetoric, referring to COVID-19 as “China virus” or “kung flu.” In fact, on the same day that six Asian women were killed in the Atlanta mass spa shootings, Trump once again called the coronavirus “China virus,” causing the term to trend on Twitter. 

This racist rhetoric that Trump has been using since the beginning of the pandemic exacerbated the anti-Asian sentiment in America. By shaping the narrative that China was the sole country to blame for the coronavirus, Trump weaponized the pandemic to foster hate. 

In a position of such power and influence, using this anti-Asian language actively hurts Asian Americans. Labelling the coronavirus as “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan flu” places an implicit blame on all Chinese people for the pandemic, lumping in innocent Chinese citizens and Chinese Americans. When Trump says “Chinese virus” on national television or tweets about “the kung flu” to his tens of millions of followers, he gives the American public permission to express their prejudices, emboldening them to freely spew anti-Asian speech and commit anti-Asian hate crimes. 

Mace Klein

This inflammatory language has a much bigger impact because of Trump’s wide influence and position of power. The Washington Post found that after Trump’s first “China virus” speech, searches for “Chinese flu” and “kung flu” increased exponentially on social media and Google, while anti-Asian hashtags spiked. 

While Trump is not the sole perpetrator of the rise in anti-Asian violence, the fundamental reality is that his racist language has directly contributed to the increase in Asian Americans who now feel unsafe walking outside. By popularizing the notion that there is an association between Asians and COVID-19, Trump’s racist language influenced the masses to verbally assault, attack and even kill innocent Asian Americans.