Two Contagions Worse Than Coronavirus: Xenophobia And Racism

India   |   Published : 12 Feb 2020 8:49 AM GMT / Updated : 2020-02-12T15:25:51+05:30
Two Contagions Worse Than Coronavirus: Xenophobia And Racism
Racist and xenophobic remarks targetting Asian communities are on the rise in the aftermath of coronavirus outbreak.

As I write this the novel Coronavirus has claimed 1115 lives, and over 45,000 confirmed cases have been reported from all over the world.

Coronavirus now induces the same fear and dread, like a ticking time bomb.

#CoronavirusOutbreak now tops Twitter's trending topics.

This has led to sensationalized videos of East Asian people eating live rats, bats and frogs populating social media feed alongside images of long queues and conflict in Chinese hospitals.

Echoing the public discourse of recent Ebola virus outbreaks in West Africa, Nippa virus outbreak in Kerala a sense of chaos, fear and even disgust permeates every discussion on coronavirus.

Similar to how people asked 'Why are all the confirmed cases of Coronavirus from Kerala alone?' when it was reported that the first confirmed case of coronavirus was from Kerala, racism is another virus that's spreading.

Harmful Stereotypes And Racism Are Spreading Around The Coronavirus

The New York Times reported that in Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDon'tComeToJapan has been trending on Twitter.

In Singapore, a petition calling for the government to ban Chinese nationals from entering the country has been signed by tens of thousands of residents.

In Hong Kong, South Korea and Vietnam, businesses have posted signs saying that mainland Chinese customers are not welcome.

In France, a front-page headline in a regional newspaper warned of a "Yellow Alert" next to an image of a Chinese woman wearing a face mask.

Another headline in the same paper read "New Yellow Peril?" above an article about the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

"Yellow Peril" was an old racist ideology that targeted East Asians in Western countries. The phrase embodies the worst of anti-Asian fears and stereotypes, which have plagued immigrant communities since the first waves of Chinese immigration to the United States began in the 19th century.

In a suburb of Toronto, parents demanded that a school district keep children of a family that had recently returned from China out of classes for 17 days.

Harvey Norman, Australia's leading retailer, is being criticised for a sign out the front of one store boasting that its mattresses are free from coronavirus because they're made in Australia.

Despite no publicly recorded cases of someone catching the deadly virus after purchasing a brand new mattress, Harvey Norman Albury erected a sign this morning with the message "No Coronavirus in our mattresses as ours are Australian made!".

Already, movements on social media have sprung up to counter racist stereotyping. For example, in France the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus, meaning "I am not a virus" is widely being used.

University of California, Berkeley has faced backlash over a now-deleted Instagram post listing xenophobia along with other possible reactions to the virus spread.

"Please recognize that experiencing any of these can be normal reactions and that over the next few days or weeks you may experience periods of… Xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings," the post by the University Health Services' Tang Center says.

The New Coronavirus Is Not An Excuse To Be Racist

The hysteria surrounding the spread of coronavirus has exposed deep-seated xenophobia, and with it, a symptom of its own has surfaced: hostility toward East Asian people.

Historically, infectious disease has generated racist discourse that blames victim populations for the perceived threat, justifying political responses that threatened human rights.

The Chinese and by extension Asians have served as scapegoats for infectious disease outbreaks and sanitation failures in Western countries.

For example, between 1894 to 1911, countless newspapers depicted Chinese Americans eating rats and lodging in unsanitary, overcrowded spaces during the Third Plague Pandemic. In Honolulu, state officials went as far as sparking a fire that burned 38 acres of Chinese homes in the city.

News of the coronavirus is amplifying a specific form of bigotry, called sinophobia — hostility against China, its people, people of Chinese descent, or Chinese culture.

Sinophobia Won't Save Anyone From The Coronavirus

There have been countless social media posts labelling Chinese people "dirty" and "unclean".



A video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup, allegedly in a Wuhan restaurant, went viral and was accompanied by the claim that the outbreak started from such practices.

That the video was shot on the Pacific island of Palau, that the dish is a local delicacy (not a Chinese one), and that the outbreak did not start from a "bat soup" did not seem to matter to those eagerly wanting to believe that Chinese people get sick because they eat "revolting" food.

But disease and bad hygiene have less to do with what is eaten and more to do with the condition in which the food is prepared. And that is often determined by bad policies and lack of control rather than the food preferences of an ethnic group.


Conjuring century-old stereotypes about Chinese people will not help the people stay safe from the coronavirus. It could, however, break communities.

Not all Asians are Chinese, and not all Chinese carry the coronavirus.

Also Read: Chinese Citizen Journalist Who Reported On Coronavirus, Goes Missing

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