Coronavirus does not excuse racism

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Ethan Lee

Writer Nicole Ong stands wearing the surgical mask donned by many as protection from the newfound virus; she holds a sign saying “Chinese ≠ Coronavirus.”

Nicole Ong

“My dad said to stay away from you since you might give me Coronavirus,” my classmate laughed, and so did I, failing to realize the implications of the comment. I shrugged, a vague discomfort settling in my gut before I realized her dad’s reasoning: I’m Chinese.

These occurrences are far from uncommon; a simple Google search will unearth a plethora of other Chinese people’s experiences with being avoided, isolated and attacked, all for fear that they may have the novel coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19. In New York City, an East Asian woman was assaulted for wearing a face mask and called a “diseased b**ch”; in Australia, bystanders refused to give a Chinese man CPR for fear that he had coronavirus, instead leaving him to die from a heart attack. Racist sentiments have even been echoed by celebrities; rapper 50 Cent, for example, suggested in a now-deleted Instagram post that President Donald Trump should “send these motherf**ers back to China” due to the epidemic. 

I understand the origin of these beliefs: as humans, we seek reason, and we want a definite plan to protect ourselves. In this instance, we blame the ones at the epicenter, and subsequently profile anyone who resembles them — Chinese people. 

However, aside from the malevolence of racist rhetoric, these justifications are just irrational. Yes, coronavirus is terrifying. But as Americans, we’re virtually isolated from the threat, assuming no travel from mainland China or close contact with someone with laboratory-confirmed coronavirus. Even in the unlikely event you walk by someone with coronavirus or are briefly in the same room as them, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that these actions pose “no identifiable risk” for transmission. Please rest assured: you don’t know better than the CDC; if someone has or may have contracted COVID-2019, the CDC would be the first to know.

Further, while there have only been 53 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the U.S. as of Feb. 27, with 45 of those cases being individuals repatriated from Wuhan or the Diamond Princess cruise ship, there were 14,657 confirmed cases of Influenza in the week of Feb. 9 to 15 alone; California’s flu activity has even been considered “widespread” by the CDC. Thus, as American residents, we’re actually more likely to contract the common flu than Coronavirus. An article from Harvard Health and Publishing and statements from the Yale-New Haven Health System even echo this sentiment. 

With more than 3.8 million Chinese Americans in the U.S., it is highly unlikely that every Chinese individual will test positive for coronavirus. If you’re scared that a nearby Chinese person is going to get you sick simply because they are Chinese — quite frankly, get over yourself.

Even those who aren’t running away from the nearest Chinese person are often acting out of prejudice. The CDC stated that COVID-19 supposedly spread through animal-to-human transmission at a seafood and live animal market. When rumors spread that the virus supposedly originated from bats, many swiftly mocked potential Chinese consumption of bats, even using it to justify Chinese suffering due to COVID-19. Online comments even go so far as to say that “if you eat like an idiot, you get what you f***ing deserve,” with some calling Chinese people “savages.” But the only thing differentiating bat meat, which is deemed unacceptable, and pig meat, deemed acceptable by most Americans, is social conditioning. After all, when the 2009 H1N1 pandemic originated from pigs in the U.S., did citizens from other countries suddenly view America as unclean and uncivilized, demonizing us for our dietary choices? I think not. 

Don’t attack us, saying “we deserved” this for eating bat meat. Don’t make jokes about us being “uncivilized.” Don’t act as if every Chinese person is a criminal or a monster simply because we committed the supposed crime of being born Chinese. Perhaps, for just a second, consider the lives being lost in China right now: each one is a parent, a sibling, a loved one, a human life. Consider the thousands of healthcare workers worldwide working around the clock to combat this epidemic. Consider the suffering in China, and honestly tell me: you’re really going to joke about that?

As I write this, I know the novel coronavirus epidemic is far from over. If you’re scared, I don’t blame you. But don’t use your fear as justification for bigotry. It will take communities acting rationally, rather than fueled by xenophobia, to fight it. Recognize your privilege as a resident of the United States — a place with a decently-functioning medical system, relatively far from the outbreak, where you’re unlikely to contract coronavirus — and think before you act.

We all fear coronavirus, but perhaps there’s a greater infection you should worry about: your own racism. 

Correction, 2/27/2020 1:00 a.m.: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. was updated to reflect the latest statistics.