Coronavirus Isn’t an Excuse for Racism

You’re more likely to catch xenophobia

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The spread of coronavirus isn’t prevalent in the U.S., but hysteria surrounding the topic is. Google searches for “coronavirus” skyrocketed toward the end of January, coinciding with a number of sensationalized news headlines and social media posts. 

The source of the new coronavirus is still unproven, but articles about coronavirus point out the kinds of animal meat sold in Chinese markets, suggesting their food may be the problem. 

The Western media frenzy over coronavirus only serves to reinforce stereotypes of Asians, particularly Chinese people, being unclean and laden with disease because of the “exotic” animals they eat.

Nevertheless, fearmongering stories about coronavirus led some to act more drastically. In an attempt to rationalize their concerns about coronavirus, many people have taken to projecting their fear onto Chinese people and their culture. An alarming amount of reactions to coronavirus are rooted in xenophobia, as opposed to any valid health concerns.

Ignoring the fact that there are almost 7,000 miles between the U.S. and China, school administrators nationwide cancelled Lunar New Year celebrations and field trips to Chinatowns.

In a particularly appalling example, an Instagram post from an account affiliated with UC Berkeley’s University Health Center listed xenophobia as a “common reaction” to news about coronavirus. The post detailed it as “fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings.” 

The World Health Organization (WHO) first detected the outbreak of a new coronavirus — a strain never before found in humans — in Wuhan, China in late December 2019. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect animals and humans. Infections cause illnesses like the common cold or, in the case of the new coronavirus, pneumonia.

Since the end of last year, there have been over 28,000 reported cases of coronavirus worldwide. The WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

Calling coronavirus a global outbreak is misleading, though. Less than 100 of the confirmed infections have been found in countries outside of Asia, with only 12 cases in the U.S. No deaths have been reported outside of mainland China, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Coronavirus poses little danger to the U.S., and residents don’t need to take any extensive measures in order to prevent infection. The California Public Health Department advises people take the same steps they would to avoid the flu in order to avoid coronavirus, such as washing your hands and staying away from sick  people.

It’s easy to joke about an illness you know you’ll likely be unaffected by. It’s also a sign of incredible privilege to be insensitive toward a real emergency occurring on the other side of the world. Ignorant generalizations are always a losing game.

Instead of placing the blame for coronavirus on an entire group of people, we should work on educating ourselves on the illness and actual steps we can take to help with the relief process. Donate to organizations raising funds to send supplies like surgical masks, N95 respirator masks and gloves to communities in China.

We should continue to wash our hands and cover our coughs, too, but a lot of us need to be more worried about our implicit biases than coronavirus itself.