Forget About Coronavirus, There’s Another Epidemic: It’s Called Xenophobia

In France, newspapers hastily scrawled with the front-page headline “Yellow Alert” dawned in the streets. In a suburb of Toronto, parents demanded that a school district prohibit children from a family that recently visited China from going to school for 17 days.

In Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan went viral on Twitter. In Sydney, Australia, an Asian woman was racially berated and told to stand in the corner of a train because she was “spreading viruses.” 

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is alleged to have originated from a seafood market in Wuhan, China. The illness has been spreading rapidly to other countries over the past few months. Behind this virus follows a pernicious wave of stifling fear and anti-Chinese sentiment. 

With major airports scanning travelers for the coronavirus and the ongoing lockdown of Wuhan, measures based on rational judgment have been enacted to keep others healthy. 

Some countries have adopted more stringent restrictions and policies. A handful of Asian countries located near China, such as Thailand and the Philippines, have initiated a temporary stop to the issuing of certain classes of visas to travelers from the Hubei Province. Italy has recently banned flights to and from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. 

This raises a distressing yet imperative question: To what extent has the prevention of the coronavirus permeated into society’s racial – and outdated – attitudes? 

While health officials scramble to contain the contagious illness, these concerns have been overshadowed rapidly by the prevalent instances of xenophobia. Parallel to the involvement of these national governments was the fallacious vindication for racial harassment. In several countries, some restaurants and shops refuse to serve Chinese customers in light of the coronavirus’s persistence, and the idea of banning Chinese people from entering any foreign country is gaining currency.

Sinophobia, a specific bigotry regarding hostility towards Chinese people and their culture, has amplified since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Having been intertwined with public health discourse for quite a while, the reactions amidst the coronavirus outbreak only manifest the apparent racism that has failed to disappear. Instead of creating unity during a time stricken by adversity, society’s quivering unease has exposed familiar crevices that the world has tried to seal in the past.

The concept of ‘dirtiness’ in association with certain populations of immigrants, although archaic, still lingers in a society that has supposedly been refined over time. Racial segregation and immigration restriction in New York City during the early 20th century, for instance, was justified by reinforcing presumed links between disease and ‘outsiders.’ In the present day, some view Chinese people, from all walks of life, as carriers of a dangerous illness immediately at first glance. Most notably, the long-lasting stigma of ‘dirtiness’ surrounding Chinese cuisine has been reinforced, as Chinese restaurants record a drastic drop in business amid coronavirus fears. 

Xenophobia has been so deeply embedded into society’s makeup to the point where people are still oblivious to the fact that their individual behavior preserves this derogatory establishment. To name a few, undermined yet prominent signs of xenophobia in response to the outbreak include carelessly making prejudiced jokes linking the coronavirus with Chinese people and subconsciously avoiding Chinese people on the streets.

Although xenophobia is largely a response to the epidemic, people tend to dismiss the fact that it is contributing absolutely nothing in ending the outbreak. In retrospect, this conflict is simply another carbon copy of global racism. The coronavirus will still infect new victims, no matter how much others racially berate China and its people for allegedly causing this situation in the first place. 

A terrible irony also lies within these discriminatory instances. People continue to discuss matters regarding the coronavirus, yet xenophobia and racist sentiments are ills that have long been neglected in the public eye. As people remain living in fear from the outbreak, many are currently infected with another disease that has been heavily overlooked. 

Having no clear sign of a cure for the coronavirus yet, spreading unnecessary hatred and anti-Chinese sentiment heightens global discord, which leads to a more troublesome climate as people struggle to reduce its spread. Rather, everyone should look towards supporting one another through this turbulent time, for cooperation is the most effective approach in alleviating this situation.