Area residents call out Huntington Country Store’s ‘xenophobic labeling’ 


  • Management at the Huntington Country Store declined to comment on criticism of the store’s website, which refers to the “Chinese Coronavirus.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/25/2020 4:31:58 PM

HUNTINGTON — Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, President Donald Trump continues to refer to the disease as the “China virus,” despite widespread criticism that the term is racist and xenophobic.

So when some area residents recently learned that the website for the Huntington Country Store is using a similar term to inform its customers about store hours and safety protocols, they began a social media campaign aimed at removing those words.

“When owners of places like the Huntington Country Store choose to embrace language and labels like China coronavirus, they are identifying themselves as part of a long legacy of Anti-Asian sentiment and rhetoric going back generations in this country,” says Sydne Didier, an Amherst resident and mother of an Asian-American man.

“Doing so creates a situation that is inherently unsafe for people like my child, scapegoated and targeted by people parroting the words of a president who stokes the flames of racism and division at every opportunity,” she said.

Didier is among those calling out what she says is “xenophobic labeling,” having tried to appeal to store owners Becky and Randy Butler to amend the website.

On the website, the word coronavirus is prefaced four times by the word China. In one such section, the store lists its more limited hours and outlines the requirements for masks and face coverings, and another headlines a section warning about the effects of the virus. Finally, there is a two-sentence description of the infection.

“China Coronavirus is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. By visiting Huntington Country Store you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to China Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Store management declined to comment in person and did not return messages seeking comment. Though family members also own the Williamsburg General Store, the Huntington Country Store operates independently.

Ali Wicks-Lim of Montague said the website writeup is not only unnecessary but perpetuates anti-Asian sentiment.

“Having a local business spread this kind of hate is concerning. It makes our community less safe for our Asian friends, family and neighbors,” Wicks-Lim said.

She said the store could simply write “coronavirus” or “COVID-19,” in step with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the state Department of Public Health and Huntington’s own emergency management department.

Vira Douangmany Cage, who serves as chairwoman of the state’s Asian American Commission, posted on Facebook urging people to get in touch with the store.

“If you are unsure why their post is offensive, please do some work and conduct a Google search,” Cage wrote.

Some of the critics point to the irony that in the 19th century, the building that is the current home of the store, built in 1790, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, a path for enslaved Black Americans to escape to freedom.

Wicks-Lim is among those who have reached out to the store.

“Several concerned people have attempted to contact management at the Huntington Country Store to express our concerns about how their language may promote racism and impact our community and ask that they change the language on their website, but management is unwilling to take calls or respond to messages,” Wicks-Lim said.

Didier said she is hopeful that community pressure will work.

“I hope that the owners of the store take this moment to evaluate and assess the impact of their word choices,” Didier said, “and to act in a way that respects all members of the larger community.”

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