Coronavirus and the Scapegoating of Asian-Americans –

Posted: March 19, 2020 at 12:44 am

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When societal order appears to be breaking down and life turns chaotic and unpredictable, we can be easily manipulated into buying into sociopolitical agendas that promote xenophobia and the scapegoating of innocent individuals and groups. This should concern us all

One of my specialty areas as a Psychotherapist and Educator is integrating Eastern philosophy with Western psychological precepts. This, along with my B.A. in Far Eastern Studies and my background teaching graduate courses in Cross-Cultural Counseling and Diversity Awareness, eventually led to my having a significant number of Asian-Americans in my Psychotherapy and Life Coaching practices.

In the past few weeks (prior to United States citizens being advised to limit our activities and remain indoors), if one of my Asian-American clients had a common cold and thoughtfully wore a mask when out and about, they invariably reported to me later in session that they received scathing looks and disdainful glances and were avoided like the plague.

They were treated as if they had committed a crime simply by being / looking Asian, wearing a mask, and being out in public. Some weakly joked that it was like they had leprosy and were an untouchable (it should be noted that some of my clients who are not Asian-American also wore masks during this time when out and they did not experience this sort of treatment at all).

As news of the coronaviruss global spread progressed, my Asian-American clients quickly became painfully and acutely aware that no matter what their actual ethnicity was (South Korean, Japanese, Thai, Hmong, etc), it was assumed that they were Chinese and were therefore potentially a Coronavirus Carrier.

These clients invariably shared their experience of xenophobia and racism with me in a matter-of-fact, detached manner, without any obvious associated emotional distress. You see, they had all been through this before. For example, several of my older clients were the only non-White students at their schools growing up as first-generation and second-generation Asian-Americans, and they were acutely aware of being the other feeling different, being ostracized and excluded, and wanting desperately to fit in and be accepted among their Caucasian peers. My younger Asian-American clients expressed more sadness, disappointment, confusion, and surprise regarding the social ostracization they were now suddenly experiencing but it was not the first time they had been treated in a less than, discriminatory way.

Yesterday, Anna Russell wrote an article for the New York Times entitled, The Rise of Coronavirus Hate Crimes. She describes several incidents of racially aggravated assaults and attacks. The fear and hatred fueling these assaults and attacks is both heartbreaking and rather horrifying to read, digest, and take in. And its not just Asian and Asian-American adults that are currently vulnerable. Asian and Asian-American children are vulnerable as well:

Last month, a boy of Asian descent was bullied about coronavirus at a San Fernando Valley school and beaten to the degree that he needed an MRI, said Robin Toma, the executive director of the countys Human Relations Commission which works on hate crime prevention (

Scapegoating a person or an entire class of people allows the scapegoater(s) to displace their fears, anxieties, and negative feelings onto the other (i.e., that which is seen a foreign or a threat). The scapegoater feels a sense of self-righteous indignation and a twisted form of justification which supports their targeting innocent individuals and committing violent acts.

Although the intensity of the societal rejection and silent condemnation my Asian-American clients have been subjected to these past few weeks may be more overt and obvious due to coronavirus fears, being the target of covert and overt forms of discrimination and social shunning is not a new experience for them. No matter that they were born and raised in the United States; each and every one of my Asian-American clients have been treated as the other at one time or another in their lives due to racial discrimination. And as their therapist and as a human being, it bothers me that they are used to it. Its just not something that anyone, anywhere, should have to tolerate.

Just when I thought it couldnt get much worse, it did. As of this week, President Donald Trump has taken to publicly calling the coronavirus the Chinese Virus (as evidenced in a tweet of his this past Monday as well as in ensuing tweets and comments made in the past two days), fueling the very same irrational fears and anxieties that have already led to the types of senseless hate crimes described in Russells article:

The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before! Trump wrote.

It should be evident to any clear-thinking, rational person that Trumps calling the coronavirus the Chinese Virus is not only ill-advised and unnecessarily racialized (some would say it was even unapologetically xenophobic); it is also an incredibly dangerous thing to do, as emphasized by Eugene Cho in his tweeted reply to Trump this week, (which I am re-posting in its entirety here):

Mr. President: This is not acceptable. Calling it the Chinese virus only instigates blame, racism, and hatred against Asians here and abroad. We need leadership that speaks clearly against racism; Leadership that brings the nation and world together. Not further divides.

Later, when interviewed, Cho, (who was born in Korea and immigrated to the United States when he was 6), said he knows three people who have been assaulted in the past couple weeks, incidents he believes are tied to the spread of the coronavirus.

I cant speak for all Asians, he said. I know for myself and my family, were not just contending with a health crisis . . . there might be backlash verbal and physical.

He said theres a growing sentiment that Americans fear is intensifying into anger, not just toward those who are of Chinese descent but toward anyone who is Asian. Theres already an undercurrent of animosity, he said, toward people of Chinese descent, which has been exacerbated by recent trade wars.

Its not just the U.S. President promoting xenophobic ideas related to the coronavirus. The University of Californias health services department posted on Instagram that xenophobia is a normal reaction during a virus outbreak. Huh?!? This is a school that is located in Berkeley, arguably one of the most liberal and woke places on the planet! This post, which basically normalizes racist, scapegoating thoughts and behavior has since been deleted. And the scapegoating of Asians is not happening only in America. A quick google search reveals that hate crimes against Asians are occurring at this time in many parts of the world, including in the UK.

All this got me to thinking about William Goldings 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.

The novel told the story of a group of adolescent boys stranded on a deserted island after a plane wreck. Lord of the Flies explored the savage side of human nature as the boys, let loose from the constraints of society, brutally turned against one another in the face of an imagined enemy. Riddled with symbolism, the book set the tone for Goldings future work, in which he continued to examine mans internal struggle between good and evil (

In Lord of the Flies, the stranded boys (who have been suddenly deprived of authoritarian structures and all sense of adult-driven social order) project all of their repressed fears and anxieties onto what they term The Beast.

The Beast (which is actually just the corpse of an aviator attached to a parachute) featured within the story is significant in that it serves as a representative symbol of scapegoating: The true beast in this story is actually the boys themselves. Meaning, the beast symbolizes the evil that is always latent within our human nature, projected onto an external entity (which can be real or imagined).

Toward the end of the novel, the boy who remains most civilized on the island (nicknamed Piggy) is labelled a bag of fat by the boys. Piggy is deliberately killed by a peer who drops a boulder on him. His death firmly illustrates how seemingly inconsequential microaggressions can lead to aggressive attacks and even murder when we objectify and dehumanize others while denying our own darkness within.

It is my assertion that in labeling the coronavirus the Chinese Virus in a tweet seen by millions, President Trump didnt just open up a symbolic bag of fat, but a xenophobic can of worms. And in doing so, he is contributing to the creation of senseless and needless personal and collective suffering the kind of suffering presented by my Asian-American clients everyday in therapy: A deep, intrapsychic suffering that is most often born in solitude and steadfast, socially conditioned silence.

I can only hope that Americans are smart enough to see through Trumps latest blatant and obviously manipulative sociopolitical ploy. Because in a time in which we all need to unite and work together to minimize the physical, mental, and emotional discomfort and distress caused by what is now a global health emergency, it is not only dangerous, but possibly even deadly, to buy into concepts, terms, and ideas that are designed to scapegoat and divide.

Are you an Asian-American in need of more support? OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates is dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Visit OCA National Asian Pacific American Advocates for resources and advocacy information.

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To learn more aboutFamily Scapegoat Abuse(FSA), its signs and symptoms, and recovering from this most damaging form of systemic familial abuse, read my eBookThe Invisible Wounds of the Family Scapegoat(available via my secure website; see my profile, below).

Rebecca C. Mandeville, LMFT, is an internationally recognized expert in recovering from the negative effects of being raised in a dysfunctional family system. She served as Core Faculty at the world-renowned 'Institute of Transpersonal Psychology', and is a pioneer in researching, identifying, defining, and bringing attention to what she terms Family Scapegoat Abuse (FSA).

Rebecca works with clients online via a secure video platform as a Counselor and Childhood Trauma Recovery Life Coach. You may email her at [emailprotected] to set up your free online (video) consultation to see if her counseling or coaching services are right for you. You may also visit Rebecca's website to learn more about Family Scapegoat Abuse and her introductory eBook on FSA.

When not seeing clients in her counseling and coaching practices, Rebecca finds inspiration for compassionate living by spending time in nature and caring for her family of animals.

APA Reference Mandeville, R. (2020). Coronavirus and the Scapegoating of Asian-Americans. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 19, 2020, from

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March 19th, 2020 at 12:44 am

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