As the coronavirus epidemic hits a toll of more than 900 deaths in mainland China, Asian communities from all over the world are facing racism. While panic over the spread of deadly coronavirus is expected, it has exposed the deep-rooted xenophobia towards East Asians.
Asians are not the only stereotyped for being good at maths, many social media posts are labelling them to be ‘unclean’. A video surfaced of a Chinese woman eating bat soup apparently at Wuhan, China where the coronavirus’ initial cases were found.
This, in fact, was busted to be a false claim. The video and cuisine belonged to the pacific island of Palau. However, it was an easy narrative for those who believe that all Chinese easily contract diseases due to their loathsome choices of food. Many forget that China is also home to several Buddhists who are anything but meat-eaters.
People seem to be putting an entire race behind the epidemic and are revealing their underlying prejudices towards the Chinese, or at least anyone who looks like Chinese.
— 陈秋实（陳秋實） (@chenqiushi404) January 22, 2020
Sam Phan, a Manchester University student, wrote in the Guardian that his ethnicity is making him feel like he was part of a threatening and diseased mass and he feared that people see him as someone who carries the virus just because of his race.
When did looks and food habits become the criteria for one to be carrying a disease? However, this is not the first time they are being labelled so. The world’s perception of Chinese people as unhygienic used to be drawn from living conditions in Chinatown.
During the 1890s when a cholera epidemic shook the Vancouver city, it was the local media that pressed upon the government to take action against the city’s Chinatown.
The narrative had such an impact on the government that it declared Chinatown as an “official entity” despite lack of evidence in the medical health officer rounds and health committee reports, a designation that placed the neighbourhood under closer inspection for by-law infractions. Other selected entities were sewerage, scavenging sites, slaughterhouses and pig ranches – none of which were residential areas!
Chinese people were indeed living in poor conditions, but that was no fault of theirs. Repeated petitions to improve the infrastructure were made to the local authorities. Moreover, the government had neglected the immigrant area for years, seeing it as a low priority.
As a result, Chinatown was filled with garbage and manure, as it lacked a sewage system, while its residents lived in overcrowded spaces with deficient ventilation.
Media plays an enormous role in shaping society’s view. Freedom of the press is indeed very valuable however it cannot be let on the loose if it is spreading fake news which are bigotry in nature, implications of which will be faced by an entire ethnic group.
Recently five people were arrested in Malaysia for spreading fake news about the virus online. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad condemned the act and said, “The government will take action on those spreading fake news to instil fear among Malaysians and incite hatred among the races.”
To help address xenophobia and direct people toward ways to help those directly impacted, Bracho-Sanchez, an eminent doctor says the media should “stick to the facts and try to include context when able.” Instead of creating more havoc and chaos, people must begin supporting those who are directly impacted and those most at risk.
“People in countries without the infrastructure to contain this virus and to give the sick adequate and timely medical care are truly the ones who should be most concerned,” she said. “And like with any viral infection, those with pre-existing medical conditions, the very young, and [those who contracted it] early are most likely to suffer complications.”
One thing that people can do to help is to donate to organizations who are helping at the frontline and are providing shelter, masks, and medical supplies. You can also share your knowledge to confront the rising spread of misinformation and bigotry.
It is important to find unity in diversity. Coronavirus is nothing but an epidemic let it not destroy humanity by creating new roots of hatred towards a community.