Spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) does not excuse increased racist behaviors, anti-Chinese sentiment

Spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) does not excuse increased racist behaviors, anti-Chinese sentiment

Karen Zhang

As an introvert, I have always been aware of the times when I have cleared my throat in a silent room or coughed more than two times in a single class period. But now, as a person of Chinese descent, I have been even more aware of every sneeze, cleared throat or cough in a public setting.

While here at this school, jokes aimed at Chinese students about COVID-19 have seemed to be mainly harmless, outside of these halls, it is not only the virus that is spreading: along with the virus, xenophobic and anti-Chinese sentiment has quickly spread throughout the world.

The escalating global health crisis has claimed more than 1,370 lives and infected close to 52,000 people worldwide*. As authorities seek to contain the virus, they are trying to balance the need for warnings against the risk of creating global panic.

However, restaurants in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and many other nations have already closed their doors to Chinese customers. French and Italian newspapers ran stories with racist headlines such as “Yellow Alert” and “Yellow Peril.” Despite little scientific evidence that restricting travel stops the spread of a novel virus, President Donald Trump has banned foreign nationals who have traveled to China in the last 14 days from reentering the United States, directly opposing the World Health Organization (WHO), which discourages travel and trade bans, claiming they make it harder to help affected nations respond to such outbreaks.

The actions of politicians, the comments on social media that say “keep the #Chinese in a zoo” and the news and media outlets that misrepresent the virus as a whole—these are all just reminders to me that I am still a foreigner in the continent in which I was born and raised.

Now, people are weaponizing the virus and using it as an excuse to be openly racist, enforcing age-old xenophobic attitudes and stereotypes. In 2009, when the H1N1, or swine flu, broke out from the United States, no one declared a type of travel ban against American citizens or called the virus the “white virus.” No one attacked Caucasian influencers on social media or scrambled away from every single white person they saw.

At the end of the day, treating someone differently by their race or acting as if all Asians have the coronavirus is the same thing: racist. It is understandable to be alarmed by the novel coronavirus because of all the uncertainty that surrounds it, but no amount of fear can justify prejudice and discrimination against people of Asian descent.

*These numbers were found on press deadline, Feb. 13, 2020

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Karen Zhang at [email protected]

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