What it’s been like being Asian during the COVID crisis

Whatever you imagine, it’s even worse

Ken Dow ✈️
6 min readOct 9, 2020

No matter who you are, you’ve probably had to experience at least a few hard things this year as a result of COVID. Perhaps, you lost a family member or a close friend. Perhaps, the business that you spent the last few decades building fell into disarray over the course of a few weeks. Perhaps, you had to put off major life events or milestones to protect yourself and others from the disease. It’s not been an easy time for any of us.

I’m Asian American. And I have plenty of friends and family who are also Asian American. Let me put it out there, unambiguously.

Being Asian American during the COVID crisis has been really, really damn hard

I’ll go into the reasons why it’s been so hard on me, my family, and my friends right below, but first let me just say this. Whatever difficulties that we’ve had to face, it’s been made even harder with the lack of media coverage and support of the issues we’ve faced. It’s been made even harder when we’re met with skepticism and satire when we attempt to express how we feel.

If I can have your attention for the next few minutes during this article, please try to understand where I’m coming from. Please don’t deny the difficulties that I’m facing simply because you might have not heard enough about it yet.

Asian Americans have been disproportionately affected by unemployment

When most people tend to think of Asian Americans, they think of high earners who typically don’t have to worry about issues such as unemployment. There’s a few problematic issues with this assumption.

First, while it is true for some, it’s certainly not true for others. And having a single assumption for an entire large and diverse group of people is nothing short of bias and prejudice.

Second, it discounts the hard effort and risk that some of Asian Americans have put into being able to earn a high income. The existence of some Asian Americans who took the risk and put in the effort to become a high earner absolutely does not take away from the plight that other Asian Americans are facing. For example, you’d never tell a poor Black man that you don’t see his suffering just because Michael Jordan was the highest paid athlete of all time right?

Asians have seen the largest jump in the unemployment rate since the COVID crisis began. For example, in May of this year, the unemployment rate for Asian Americans soared to 15%. The second highest unemployment rate by race was Black Americans, which stood at an also high rate of 13%.

If you dig deeper into the numbers, it’s especially troubling for young Asian American men. At the worst point, Asian American young men below the age of 24 had an unemployment rate as high as 22.1%. The first few years in starting off your career are crucial for setting up a foundation for success in the future. Sadly for these young, Asian American men, they were disproportionately impacted.

Asian Americans have faced the highest fatality rate

The fatality rate here is defined as, “after you get infected by the disease, what is the chance of dying?”

This fatality rate has been disproportionately high for Asian Americans. For example, in San Francisco, a city that has a very large Asian American population — while only one-third of the city is Asian American, half of the fatalities were Asian American.

The story isn’t much better if you look at other cities. The data from all the other major cities show the same pattern — Asian Americans are dying from COVID at rates much higher than any other racial group.

Is this the result of inadequate healthcare for Asians?

Is this the result of implicit racism when deliver healthcare to Asians?

Is this the result of Asian Americans disproportionately being in roles that are at the front lines (such as nursing, food manufacturing, food retail) that may result in a higher risk of case severity?

Asian Americans have faced the most discrimination and violence

This is an especially hard one to talk about.

It’s especially hard to talk about not just because Asian Americans having to face the most discrimination and violence is already difficult enough. It’s especially hard to talk about because the majority of people still refuse to admit that it’s even possible for Asians to be on the receiving end of racism.

Anecdotally, you may have heard of these stories:

89-year-old Asian American grandmother set on fire

Asian man targeted for armed robbery defends himself against gang member with history of targeting Asians for violent crime

59-year-old Asian father stabbed to death by teenager with history of targeting Asians for violent crime

69-year-old Asian father shot in front of family by two armed gang members who raided the wrong house looking to collect their drug

These are incredibly sad stories to hear, but unfortunately they really are part of a broader trend of Asians being the most dis-proportionally targeted for violent crime. Let’s take a look at what the stats say.

Pew Research shows that Asians, more than any other racial group, have been subjected to slurs, jokes, and the threat of physical harm.

This is already a hard enough stat to swallow, but what makes it sad is that most people haven’t even expressed support for the difficulties that Asians face. Only 28% of Asians say that they have had someone express support for them since the coronavirus outbreak began — the only other group that said that they received less support — White Americans…

No amount of words or stats or stories can convey truly how difficult it is to be Asian during this time. Quite honestly, things weren’t easy before, but they’re even harder now.

I’m not asking for sympathy. All I’m asking for is perhaps the next time someone Asian wants to talk about the difficulties they face, all I ask is that you don’t have the same air of skepticism.

We’re all going through difficult battles and just because you may not see our battles heavily advertised or pushed by mass media doesn’t mean those problems aren’t there.