Our View: Xenophobia isn’t a side-effect of the coronavirus

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China late last year, the global death toll has now risen to 1,770 and the global tally of diagnoses is 71,204. Understandably, global fear of the virus and anxiety of its possible spread have been on the rise as well. However, this rise in panic about the spread of the deadly virus has unveiled an ever-present fear of foreigners, or xenophobia, in North America and some Western countries as well as global anti- Chinese sentiments. 

Some Asian American students have reported facing harassment at school. 

At Arizona State University, where one case of the virus has been confirmed, Asian American students have called out the school for its lack of action in responding to the xenophobia across campus. At ASU, students have reported being discriminated against by other students, refusing to sit next to them in class and yelling insensitive comments on campus. The Asian/Asian Pacific American Students’ Coalition at Arizona State University wrote a letter to the president of the university asking him to address the “the rise of racism and xenophobia in regards to the coronavirus.” 

At Columbia University, students discovered a blackboard in the library with “Wuhan virus isolation area,” written in Chinese and “Keep out!” added on in English. 

The University of California Berkeley Health Services Instagram posted an infographic for “Managing Fears & Anxiety” resulting from the virus outbreak. Some more reasonable reactions were anxiety, worry, a feeling of helplessness. However, at the bottom of the list of the “common reactions” listed was xenophobia, seemingly validating students’ fear of interacting with those presumably from Asia. 

These instances are just a handful of xenophobic and discriminatory examples of what Chinese American students are facing on their campuses. Instances like this have been reported outside of college campuses and even globally, with examples of xenophobia and anti- Chinese sentiments being reported around the world. Businesses in South Korea and Japan, and one restaurant in Rome, Italy, have reportedly been banning Chinese customers from entering their stores, posting signs that read “No Chinese allowed,” according to MarketWatch. 

However, the racism that is currently being carried out under the guise of protection from the coronavirus is anything but new. It’s not as if the virus has just spawned discrimination against Asians as an additional symptom to its outbreak. No, the sentiment and prejudice against Asians and Asian Americans is something that has long been present, and in a moment of stress and fear, is being displayed at an international level. 

The source of the coronavirus was originally suspected to be Wuhan wet markets, meat markets which sell live and dead animals that would be deemed non-traditional by American standards. For this reason, blame has been placed on the eating habits of Chinese people for the source of the virus’ outbreak. 

Historically scrutinized for being unclean, the eating habits of Asian countries are just one of many aspects of foreign culture that ethnocentric Westerners view as backwards. In an article for Foreign Policy, James Palmer discussed the long-standing, racist view of Chinese as disease-carriers saying, “many Americans long believed that, as the New York Daily Tribune wrote in 1854, Chinese people were ‘uncivilized, unclean, filthy beyond all conception.’ Today, those same ideas have often been transferred to other groups such as South American refugees, yet they still persist in the way some Westerners think about China.” 

With panic spreading about the coronavirus, xenophobic and racist actions are being carried out under the ploy of taking preventative measures. However, it’s obvious that these instances are rooted in a much deeper history of anti-Asian mindsets, present in North America and Western countries for centuries. 

The U.S.’ own measurements taken following the outbreak of the disease are being condemned as overreacting by Chinese officials. The U.S. recently declared public health emergency because of the virus’ outbreak and have banned entry into the country for foreign nationals who have visited China in the last two weeks, according to BBC. Several other countries have also imposed some sort of travel ban or restrictions as preventative measures. Chinese officials have criticized these actions which they feel are fueling international panic over the virus. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “It is precisely developed countries like the U.S. with strong epidemic prevention capabilities… that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to [World Health Organization] recommendations,” according to BBC. 

As the death and infection tolls continue to rise, we must work even harder to put an end to the racist treatment of Asians and Asian Americans. These reactions to the coronavirus are displaying deep rooted racist tropes and mindsets. In the face of crises, now would be as good as a time than ever to show sympathy and kindness to the thousands who have been infected or who have been affected. This dangerous mindset, reverting to discrimination, is ignoring any scientific evidence, as well as belittling the culture and everyday lives of billions of Chinese citizens and millions of Asian Americans. 

Moving forward, we all can help alleviate the panic and fear by not acting out in a racist and xenophobic manner. Claiming it to be a preventative measure is hardly believable and only shows an immense amount of insensitivity and ignorance. Fear and uneasiness is understandable in the face of such a virus. But, those emotions can be worked through and displayed not at the expense of others. 

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