Dr. Alexander Jun, a scholar on equity in higher education, challenged the University community to consider the power of pejorative words about Asian-Americans in light of a nationwide increase in hate crimes.
Last month, Jun was a featured guest on MOSAIC Live, an Instagram Live discussion moderated by Danne Pierre, director of multicultural student programs and first year/transfer experience. Jun is an author, a professor of higher education at Azusa Pacific University and an elder at New Life Presbyterian Church of Orange County. He conducts research on equity and justice in higher education around the world.
At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., the FBI warned of a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans. An online hate crime reporting tool registered more than 1,000 incidents in less than two weeks, Jun said.
Attributing the spread of a disease to foreigners is nothing new, Jun said, referring to the Spanish flu and Japanese encephalitis.
“A disease knows no race or ethnicity,” Jun said. “Epidemiologists will say this is a disease, not a people group. It’s the attribution error that is dangerous.”
Additionally, Asian Americans are not a monolith. The label includes those who are Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Pacific-Islander. Regardless, people who fall into the demographic face a two-fold threat.
“You’re worried about getting the virus, and you’re worried about receiving the virus of racism from others,” Jun said. “There’s a genuine fear for your physical safety. There’s a genuine fear of leaving the house, especially in areas where there aren’t very many Asian-Americans.”
The new coronavirus is not “the great equalizer,” Jun said. It is the great revealer of existing inequality.
Social distancing brings other race and class issues to light. For example, it assumes that you have a home to go to, that you have enough space to distance yourself from others within your home and that you have access to the Internet to fulfill work or school responsibilities while you’re there, Jun said.
Unfortunately, racism won’t end until Christ returns, Jun said. Embracing other cultures is a “passive form of loving our neighbors,” he said. He encouraged students to take electives that help them learn about experiences that are different than their own.
Jun also urged patronage of Asian-owned businesses two or three times a week. Although Italy has been hit hard by the coronavirus, pizza joints and Italian restaurants haven’t suffered the same racially-related drop in business that Chinese restaurants have, Jun noted.
Jun acknowledged that Asian Americans are just now experiencing racism that black and Latina people have long endured in America.
“We can’t just care about our own house burning,” Jun said. “It’s a great opportunity to start engaging in conversations with communities of color.”
Photo: Dr. Alexander Jun was a guest in a MOSAIC Live Q & A about anti-Asian American sentiment during COVID-19.