Paralympian Scout Bassett on Experiencing Xenophobia During the Pandemic — Interview

Right about now, Scout Bassett should be getting ready to pack up her suitcase. The 31-year-old track and field star was set to compete in the 100 meter and long jump at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this July. Instead, she’s at home like the rest of us, figuring out how to maintain some semblance of normalcy during these uncertain times. But it’s been challenging, not just for the ambitious professional athlete that she is, powered by record-setting goals and open track fields that are no longer accessible. As an Asian American, Bassett says she’s learned, during this pandemic, that our belonging as a community is “conditional.” “One moment, we are considered the model minority and we are Americans, and the next minute, we’re all foreigners that brought this virus [to the U.S.],” Bassett tells me over Zoom.Bassett has endured hardship and marginalization her entire life. She was born in Nanjing, China, and spent seven “horrendous” years of her childhood in an orphanage after she was found abandoned following a chemical fire that resulted in the loss of her right leg. Bassett was adopted by an American family from Michigan and grew up in a predominately white town. She says she had no friends or role models who looked like her or had a disability like hers. Despite all of this, she found strength and courage in her experiences to persevere and pursue her love of sport after obtaining her first running prosthetic at age 14. Bassett would go on to run competitively at UCLA and would be recruited by a head performance director for U.S. Paralympics. According to ESPN, she is currently the fastest American of her classification ever to run the 100 meters.And yet, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Bassett truly experienced discrimination quite like this — not for her disability, but for being a Chinese American. “I will say that, largely up until this point, I have lived a life devoid of race for the most part,” she says. It happened at her local grocery store. “I just came from running and when I run, I get congestion — it’s just part of how it is. I coughed into my elbow and a woman not too far away heard me. She obviously could tell I was Asian and had some words for me about my people. [She told me] we wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for my people, and she asked if I was Chinese. What [was I supposed] to say?” Bassett tells Allure. The incident made her feel so uncomfortable, she dropped her groceries and left the store. Bassett had faced so much adversity up until that point, but for the first time, she was being attacked for just existing. “That really put in perspective for me of our belonging being conditional and how people view Asian Americans right now,” she says. But like every obstacle in her life, Bassett treated this instance as a source of inspiration — to stand up for herself as an Asian American and to continue to fuel her goals of being the best athlete she could be, pandemic or not. Because the Paralympic Games have been postponed to August 2021, Bassett is technically in an offseason. Instead of sitting still, marathoning Netflix until the pre-season, she wanted to set some goals, both mentally and physically. She started to cook more plant-based meals at home, something she hadn’t really had time for before the pandemic. Bassett committed to journaling every day, scribbling down her thoughts and gratitude, so she could one day reflect on this strange period in our lives. She also found comfort in maintaining her beauty routine, remembering to always apply sunscreen. But where she really pushed herself was, of course, in running.

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