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Let’s Not Be Racist With The Coronavirus

The World Health Organization has officially called the coronavirus a public health emergency. This comes after the sixth confirmed person in America with the virus is hospitalized and the death toll reaching 213. China announced that over 8,000 people have been infected and reported cases have been shown in Australia, Vietnam, South Korea, India, and the Philippines.

The coronavirus has definitely caused a lot of tension and anxiety for the public– and rightly so, due to the number of people who are affected by the virus and the growing (but slow) research on a cure and a vaccine.

For those concerned, the reality of the coronavirus is not that bleak. Although mildly infectious, the fatality rate of those who contract the virus is at 3 percent. This means that people with mild symptoms may not even go to a doctor, and that the fatality rate could be even lower. The Chinese government is trying its best to control the virus, with shutting down transportation and popular areas in Wuhan. 

It unfortunately has also propelled a wave of xenophobia. Twitter has exploded, with Japan having a hashtag #ChineseDontCometoJapan trending in the country, Singapore residents petitioning against allowing Chinese nationals in the country, and even Hong Kong, South Korea, and Vietnam having signs up in businesses discouraging Chinese nationals from being in the area.  An underlying factor noted by The New York Times is that China’s economic and military power has already caused tension by Asian countries and the West, so with the new virus, xenophobia is heightened.

Again, Twitter has served as a platform where people have been xenophobic or racist against Chinese people, specifically on what Chinese people eat and not being around Chinese people in public. Historically, this is nothing new. Between 1894 to 1911, newspapers portrayed Chinese Americans as eating rats and living in dirty places- something that makes them inhuman or disgusting. The U.S. government felt so strongly about their disgust for Chinese folks that they actually burnt down 38 acres of Chinese land in Honolulu.

This same feeling is extremely heightened today by the French newspaper that headlined “Yellow Alert” as the coronavirus broke out. Yellow Alert refers to the “Yellow Peril”- a racist Western perception that all East Asian folk, specifically Chinese, are unclean, dirty, and are considered prostitutes. Lest not forget- as carriers of disease, visible with the outpouring of people posting videos and reacting with racist comments to social media videos and images of Asian folk eating unusual foods such as bats, chicken feet, even something referred to a geoduck which is a phallic-looking clam that five star restraunts in America serve.

Outlets like the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have furthered this perception of Chinese folks and food with suggesting the coronavirus originated at a wet-market. The source of the virus is unconfirmed. A wet-market is where dead and live animals are sold, not really unlike an American meat market. The only difference is that in Western culture eating “Chinese” food such as bat is depicted as disgusting because Westerners traditionally don’t eat bat. Yet, America’s extremely processed and unusual food such as crocodile or deer (any wild game really) is seen as appropriate.

As said before, there are already underlying tensions against Chinese people and the Chinese government in general. This is essentially due to the fact that Hong Kong has perceived itself more evolved compared to mainland China. One large part is that in the 1980s, Hong Kongers perceived new immigrants as country bumpkins, criminals or new immigrants that can be paid less or even face workplace discrimination easily. A huge part of discrimination is from the ethnic differences and the language barrier with Hong Kong citizens speaking Cantonese and mainland Chinese folk speak Putonghua or other regional dialects. Hong Kong citizens don’t want these individuals who don’t speak their language (or have an accent to it) to come in like locusts, a term used for mainlanders coming to Hong Kong. With the coronavirus beginning in the mainland, Chinese folk from the mainland have now been stranded due to having no public transport and being unable to stay at hotels or other indoor places due to fear of contagion The fear is so large that one person saw a Wuhan license plate in their community and called the police.

However, the Twitter community has not completely been racist/xenophobic against the Chinese community.

Westerners, specifically Americans, haven’t been vaccinated recently and are more susceptible to the flu than to the coronavirus. Sound not that serious? Last year, 300,000 people died from the flu and this year over 8,000 people have died.  Epidemiologist Brandon Brown interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said it best, “Here in the U.S. this (the flu) is what is killing us. Why should we be afraid of something (the coronavirus) that has not killed people here in this country?”

Picture Source:Pexel

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Mia Boccher
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