Stop using the coronavirus as an excuse to be racist

Stereotyping Asian people as potentially infectious is racist, dangerous, and needs to be addressed

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Image Credit: Washington Post

Coinciding with the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has been deemed a global emergency by the World Health Organisation, comes a clear revelation of xenophobia and racism. This has become so pressing to talk about, as I am half Asian myself and know exactly the type of generalised racism that Asian people experience.

I went home for a 21st birthday at the weekend, knowing that as soon as I saw my closest mates, I would be greeted with a bit of casual racism, albeit jokes that they know wouldn’t get to me. Lo and behold, I was informed by my best mate of four years that he’d said to his dad earlier that day, “I hope James doesn’t give me the coronavirus,” a lovely bit of banter to start the weekend off.

It’s exactly these kind of jokes that have dominated social media since the outbreak, and the number of racist comments flying about in relation to the outbreak are completely unacceptable on a number of levels. First is the generalisation of Asian people as being all Chinese, which I have personally experienced. ‘Chinky’ and ‘ching chong’ are among a few of the insults made to me - a half Filipino male. There’s this association that all Asian people look and essentially are the same.

This was one of the chosen angles taken by an anonymous submission to the (not technically official Yorfess page - but the point still stands) various Facebook pages which operate mainly for University of York students, suggesting that Asians were “cliquey” and “unwilling to integrate” so there was no need to worry about getting the coronavirus. This is just a massive generalisation, and in itself is already offensive and the fact it was all done for a few likes from people you don’t know on an anonymous Facebook page is frankly disgusting and just sad.

Another submission I saw stated how they believed the University was “happy to let the Chinese swarm over here and kill us” which just isn’t true in any way you look at the situation. The choice of language is offensive, but perhaps the stereotype which has obviously built up for the aforementioned submission hasn’t been aided by the clearly racist attitudes some students have towards Chinese and other Asian students.

Alongside this in York itself, there has been a huge amount of ‘jokes’ on social media. As a sports fan, I saw these mainly aimed at footballers from different Asian countries, particularly the Tottenham player Heung Min Son, who is South Korean, and coughed in a post-match interview after a full 90 minutes of football. Within seconds there were hundreds of tweets stating how new signing Steven Bergwijn, who was next to Son, isn’t going to have a very long career after said interview, among other factually incorrect statements about the player giving the virus to other members of his team.

Football has always been an arena for racism against all non-white groups in England and it’s no surprise that some fans couldn’t resist another chance to be racist when the virus emerged. With the majority of the racist problems in football being related to black players, there is a general xenophobia against all non-white players.

For me, people are once again using this to scapegoat a particular race so they can be racist. It happened before with the Ebola virus, and it is clear this is something which people deem to be normal behaviour. There are two levels which make it offensive to me; the idea that all Asian people are Chinese and that all Chinese people instantly have the coronavirus - both of which are just strictly false - and it’s this xenophobia which has to be tackled just as well as the actual virus. I don’t think a simple ‘call for unity’ is going to address the underlying preconceptions which certain people have about Asian people, especially at the University. It just seems to be quite a weak attempt at solving the issue.

In terms of me personally, I experienced generalised casual racism every day I was at school; if I was having dog for dinner, or simply being called Psy or Kim Jong Un. It was just a part of the everyday banter that went on, the majority of jokes I would take next to no offense to as they were not malicious. However, it made it very obvious what preconceptions a lot of my mates had about Asian people - from all different countries - who were narrow-minded to the fact that the culture and identity varied massively from each nation to the next.

There have been numerous reports in the media of Asian people being avoided, insulted, or just treated differently since the outbreak - in the York area specifically and elsewhere. It’s just really sad as it makes no practical sense. This is in no way me saying you shouldn’t move away from a person if they are coughing - because no matter what race, the decision to do this is very natural and makes practical sense in that you want to avoid being ill. What isn’t fair is the decision to treat Asian people with disdain - not running in line with the advice of organisations such as Public Health England that risk is low and operations at the Uni should resume as normal. Why not trust the professional advice?

The final straw was when my parents - one of which has worked in Asia for a long period in their career, the other being from the Philippines told me to perhaps avoid Asian people who may seem ill when I am back in York. Neither of them are racist but the factual impracticality of their attempt at protection upsets me. There isn’t enough being done to address how xenophobia isn’t going to solve any problems, it just exposes our backward-thinking mind-sets, especially in times of crisis. There are posts on social media that express how xenophobia isn’t going to help anything but it doesn’t appear to be stopping a lot of people. We need much more than a ‘call for unity’; this racism isn’t new, and it isn’t going anywhere with solutions coming in this form.

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