PSA: Your fear of coronavirus isn’t an excuse for racism or xenophobia.
It’s the hostile comments online that denounce an entire race. It’s the baseless slurs thrown at innocent people who are already suffering in so much pain. It’s the people who yell at Chinese immigrants who have long ago assimilated to the United States and tell them to go back to their country.
It’s the fifth-grade student who takes one look at me and asks, “Are you Asian?” and widens his eyes in horror when I say yes. “Have—have you been to China?” he asks next, and I already know what’s running through his head: coronavirus.
“No,” I say flatly, and he sighs with relief just before proceeding to sneeze in my face without covering his mouth.
Talk about irony.
Recently, the rapid spread of coronavirus across the world has brought China to the forefront of headlines. Coupled with the excessive spread of misinformation and fear on the Internet, this epidemic has spawned a significant degree of mass hysteria.
I’ve seen more than enough comments online to know that anti-Chinese sentiments are prevalent. The Chinese deserve this disease. What do you expect from eating such strange food? And then the simple, low-effort comments: Ch-nk. Go back to your own country. Because of course, when so many people are suffering, the best move is to generalize an entire country—an entire race—and lump us all into being a scapegoat for your convenience.
Here’s my question: Why is it that, upon hearing that citizens of China are suffering from such a deadly outbreak, the first response of many people is to further add on to the innocent citizens’ suffering by making such utterly unsympathetic, harsh, and completely racist comments? Is it not basic human decency to recognize when someone is already dealing with so much pain and to simply avoid adding more for them to handle?
I get it. A deadly virus that currently has no cure is terrifying, no doubt. People all over the world are scared. People want to be able to have a group to blame, because that gives them a place to take out their anger and fear. But here’s a grand idea: fear is not an excuse for racism or xenophobia.
As an American citizen who has grown up in the U.S. all my life, it is extremely disappointing that in recent times, I’m often being thrown into the group that “doesn’t belong,” the group that needs to “go back to their country to avoid spreading the disease.” It doesn’t matter that I’m as American as anyone else—all of a sudden, my race is the only thing that matters about me. Xenophobia has spread like wildfire, and it stems from a place of ignorance and fear. Restaurant owners in Chinatowns across the country have reported declines in business and customers. According to CNN, a woman wearing a face mask in New York City was physically and verbally assaulted, while a man on a subway in Los Angeles called Chinese people “filthy,” saying that “every disease [ever] has come from China.” Aside from how blatantly untrue this is—the CDC estimates that 16,000 people have died due to the seasonal flu in the U.S. this year, but let’s just ignore that for the sake of convenience, right?—the concept of “all Chinese people must have the virus” is just mind-boggling in its absurdity. Last time I checked, we aren’t born with viruses encoded in our racial makeup. Regardless of race, we’re all equally susceptible to contracting the disease.
And what if I told you that attacking people of East Asian descent is not going to do any good in curbing the spread of the virus? Assaulting and blaming an entire race for the outbreak just makes no sense logically. Throwing people into a blanket statement is textbook racism, and it offers absolutely no benefit to anyone. Stereotypes are dangerous because they aren’t true—it’s simply impossible to apply any sort of statement to a group of people as large as an entire race.
I’m not saying that everyone is attacking Asians. For the record, for every racist or ignorant comment, I’ve seen five supportive ones. But racism in any way is a threat to equality and acceptance, and we can do better than this.
It’s okay to be afraid of the virus. It’s understandable to feel anxious about the rapid spread. What’s not okay, though, is using those feelings as justification for racist and xenophobic behavior. Besides, I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing that washing your hands and being mindful of hygiene would probably be a lot more effective than being racist, right? Just a guess, though.