Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 in China, despite seeing countless reports on the number of infections and how hard frontline medical staff fight against the virus, it’s disheartening to witness how racism based on the epidemic is emerging in many countries. Instead of standing in solidarity, Asians and anyone who looks Chinese are stigmatized.
In many countries, especially in Europe and North America, it’s common to see passengers resist sitting next to Asian passengers. Shops and malls turn down Asian customers. Asian schoolchildren who attend schools in the West are bullied or singled out by teachers and classmates. On the front page of a French newspaper, big block letters announced “Yellow Alert” next to an image of a Chinese woman wearing a face mask. In fact, Asians wearing surgical masks for the purpose of disease prevention are turning into the targets of discrimination and regarded as carrying certain types of virus. It’s even more ridiculous that Chinatowns in many countries and even Chinese restaurants are shunned and stigmatized.
It’s obvious that racism is posing an even bigger threat than the coronavirus amid the outbreak as it breeds inequality, unfairness, hatred and hostility among different groups of people in an increasingly globalized world. Asians and especially Chinese are stigmatized as primitive, unhealthy, eating “dirty” food and carriers of deadly disease. Such stereotyped images are obviously biased, and it should be emphasized that such racial discrimination won’t bring any benefits to public health. On the contrary, exacerbating an even tenser racial climate is prone to cause more conflict as we see Asians beaten on the streets or more school bullying and violence taking place.
Racism doesn’t kill the virus, so local governments all around the country need to base their preventive measures on a reasonable and effective grounds. With epidemic prevention and control entering a crucial period, some countries are overreacting and even go to extremes, only screening and examining Chinese and Asians, which has no scientific basis and is often counter-productive. Meanwhile, targeting certain types of people due to racism may also lead to other problems. For example, people may miss other agents that could spread the disease. As many experts warned, we need to look at the COVID-19 outbreak and let science make the decision. Wearing masks, washing hands often, sterilizing daily necessities and monitoring body temperature — all these precautions prescribed and authorized by experts are what we should do.
What really matters now is to stop overreaction and stand up against racism. History is rife with examples of how racism hurts society and drags on the economy. Back in 2003 during the SARS outbreak, Asian-owned small-businesses in North America lost up to 80 percent of their income from the SARS scare, according to statistics. We can’t afford to repeat the same mistake 17 years later.
The world is now bracing for more diversity despite differences in race, ethnic groups and skin color. Fueling anti-Asian racism is a backward trend which only does harm to the global community. Diseases won’t be so picky as to be transmitted only within one specific race. The COVID-19 has already turned into a human tragedy. Don’t let anti-Asian racism tear us apart in the common fight against the virus.