Covid-19: Whilst key workers are all hands on deck, racist hate crime is increasing

By Roni Roseberg

My friend Margaret surprised me.

First, she and her husband left the population-dense San Francisco Bay Area where they had lived for 41 years, heading for a semi-rural community in the upper reaches of Northern California.

Somehow, I didn’t think she’d leave an area that was home for so long, especially as one of their two grown children still lives in the Bay Area.

Then Covid-19 upended her plans and Margaret reversed her course about working. She had been in the middle of a two-year trial sabbatical to consider possible retirement.

Born in then-British-occupied Hong Kong, Margaret came to the US in 1973 to study. She had been interested in studying architecture, but was dissuaded by her grandfather who considered the field unladylike.

She then chose to study pharmacy. Luckily, a generous relative assisted with financing of her studies abroad, and she came to the US at 18, experiencing a radical cultural change.

She adapted well, earning her doctorate in the field, marrying another pharmacist, raising a family, and always continuing to work.

She spent 42 years as a pharmacist, with 34 of those as the owner of a pharmacy with her husband.

Margaret (2021).

These years included the active years of the AIDS epidemic. Little do people realise the wealth of experience the person in the white coat may bring.

However, it was time for a change. So, Margaret and her husband packed up for their new home.

But instead of sitting back in the new woodsy setting, Margaret heeded the call. In her area, help administering Covid-19 vaccines was desperately needed.

She told me:

“I consider myself blessed by the pharmacy profession. I want to give back somehow. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I saw my opportunity. The timing was right—I thought: ‘All hands on deck!’”

Fortunately, Margaret has not been directly affected by anti-Asian discrimination.

Amid Covid-19: A rise in anti-Asian discrimination

Both in the USA and UK, South East-Asian communities have been subject to horrific abuse since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Here in the USA, growing numbers of members of South-East Asian communities have faced discrimination in the workplace, verbal and physical abuse.

With rising anti-Asian sentiment in the USA, some advocates blame the anti-Chinese rhetoric of (now) former President Donald Trump who referred to the Coronavirus as “China virus” or “kung flu”. 

Likewise, in the UK, the same pattern has emerged. Nepalese musician Kanti Gurung who lives in London recalled how: people would shout corona, or cough in my face, tell me to go back to my country, and blame me for bringing this virus”.

However, such hate goes back before the pandemic.

In the USA, anti-Asian hate crimes have been increasing since 2015.

Again, sentiments are the same in the UK where, for example, John Barco, a Filipino from London, told the Evening Standard that racism against Asians wasn’t “new”. Instead, the pandemic had simply exacerbated the issue.

And sadly, it doesn’t stop there either. With antisemitic conspiracy theories dubbing Covid-19 the “Jew flu” and “Holocough” and anti-Muslim disinformation campaigns in India, the pandemic has been used to fuel hatred of both religious and ethnic minorities.

With the rhetoric of Donald Trump being one such example, such hate is also not only being pedalled on a street level but also by political parties and groups in the USA, Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Germany.

According to Human Rights Watch, they have used the pandemic to “advance anti-immigrant, white supremacist, ultra-nationalist, antisemitic and xenophobic conspiracy theories that demonize refugees, foreigners, prominent individuals, and political leaders.”

It’s sad that a time of insecurity when we should be coming together, hate has once again reared its ugly head.

With Margaret, being of Chinese background in America was discussed around the family dinner table. Her two grown children are very vocal about recent events, and are great advocates for the changes we need in society.

Her son volunteers in the San Francisco area to escort for Asian seniors at risk for attacks. Her daughter, a teacher, is pursuing a doctorate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Hardworking souls like their parents!

Thankfully, Margaret has met some very friendly colleagues in the clinic and she clearly enjoys the public.

She wrote on her family blog:

“It was a wrap for another week of Covid vaccine clinics. Now that I am giving mostly second shots to people, I have been touched by their emotions. It was a ‘What a relief!’ expression—tearing up, sobbing, outright laughing, and dancing around me, who’s still holding a retracted syringe and needle!”

Making a contribution to society is critical for Margaret, so retirement among the pines is not on the horizon just yet.

When it does occur, it will be definitely well-earned!

Thank you, Margaret, and of course all our key workers, for helping us through this crisis.

Your efforts will not be forgotten.

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