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Chinese coronavirus triggered an outbreak of racism and xenophobia: what to do about it

The outbreak of coronavirus catalyzed another epidemic - an outbreak of xenophobia and racism towards Chinese and people from other Asian countries. Writes about this with the BBC.

Фото: Depositphotos

Harrassment, discrimination, and victimization (blaming the victim) against the Chinese and people in other Asian countries are visible to the naked eye. In social networks, popular treatment tips are spread, myths about the emergence of a new virus, and with them racism: from assumptionsthat the virus "leaked" from a secret laboratory, to the accusations that the "uncivilized" Chinese with their eating habitshygiene and everyday life.

Racism in social networks

“Horror, no words, - says in the caption for a video on the animal rights advocate’s Instagram post on which an Asian-looking girl eats millipedes. - I understand everything, a different culture. In Asia, they eat everything that moves, and then they wonder where the new forms of viruses come from! ”

The video has tens of thousands of views, under the post there are hundreds of comments like “this is not culture”, “these are not people, but primates”, “this is as vile as the Chinese themselves”, “wild monkeys, let the earth be cleansed”.

Some in the comments object: “Everyone should know that these are artificial viruses that they spread only to Asians” (the author's spelling and punctuation are preserved).

Another video, circulating on the Internet, shows a girl who eats soup with a bat. The comments below this video also condemn the Chinese for their "bad eating habits", blaming them for the spread of the coronavirus.

Theories about how the virus is transmitted are also popular: from versions about packages from Aliexpress to assumptions about the dangers of Chinese restaurants and in general any sneezing Chinese. "When you sit in your favorite Chinese restaurant and hear a cough from the kitchen," spoken with meme with an amazed black man at the table.

Meanwhile, scientists and doctors are still not known for certainhow exactly the causative agent of Covid-2019 appeared. One of the most likely theories claims that the zoonotic virus was somehow transmitted to humans. from bats - their specific immune system allows them to be carriers of many viral infections.

However, this theory assumes the presence of another link between a person and a bat. Such a link could be located in the fish market in Wuhan - the epicenter of the outbreak - where illegal trade in rare and exotic species of animals was carried out. Some experts count them.that such close proximity of so many species that otherwise could not be found could contribute to the spread of new diseases. There is an assumption that such a link - or one of the links - could be pangolin.

And what in real life?

From social networks and the media, racism flows into real life, where it does much more harm. Many Chinese people living abroad - in Russia, Ukraine, Britain, France, the United States, Canada, and many other countries - say that their attitude towards the outbreak has changed. “Some people treat us like we are a virus,” says Shao, a resident of Kiev.

On the subject: Not all patients are equally contagious: who are the superpreparants of Chinese coronavirus?

Kazan hostel hung a sign banning entry to the Chinese, who had recently flown in from China, later stating that "it was not racism."

Two Chinese tourists in Tallinn ended up in the hospital after the employee of the hotel where they were staying called an ambulance, finding it suspicious that guests rarely leave their room. Suspicions were unfounded: Chinese tourists were completely healthy.

Many Chinese people talk, if not about insults and actions, then about insulting jokes that hide micro-aggression.

Racism, sociologists say, often goes unnoticed by those who allow themselves to make such statements and behavior. But for those against whom he is directed, “words and actions are equally painful,” says York University professor Roger Cale.

The Yellow Threat

Neither the “swine flu” H1N1 outbreak observed in North America in 2009 nor the outbreak of E. coli in Scotland in 1996 was racial in color. On the contrary, infections that appeared in Asia, like the new coronavirus and SARS in 2003, or in Africa, like the Ebola virus in 2014, quickly gained a “racial component” in the public mind: they began to be associated with specific groups of people and their behavior.

According to Roger Cale, an explanation for this should be sought, first of all, in the history of colonialism.

“Racism has historically worked as the logical equivalent of white supremacy. White skin is thought to be associated with cleanliness and health. And colonial history was suspicious of a non-white population, ”says the professor.

Such an explanation is consonant with the findings of the researcher Kariann Leo describing consequences of severe acute respiratory syndrome, also known as SARS, for Asian minorities in Canada in 2003. SARS, having symptoms similar to the new coronavirus and sharing 80% of the DNA with it, then killed almost 800 people, more than 8 thousand became ill.

“As a result of SARS, members of Chinese and Asian communities felt stigmatized and experienced cases of exclusion, discrimination and harassment,” she described the situation in 2003.

In his study of the origins of the connection between racism and outbreaks of disease, Lun uses the term “yellow threat”, which emerged at the end of the XIX century.

His authorship is often attributed to Kaiser of Germany William II: he allegedly had a dream in the 1880s in which a Buddha on a dragon threatens to invade Europe. Historians point out that the alleged “yellow threat” from the “new world superpower” was an important part of William II's foreign policy.

The growth of emigration from East Asia to North America and Europe, the cheap labor of Chinese workers and colonial expansion in the XNUMXth century influenced the spread of this fear of the "Asian other", which threatens the welfare of the Western world.

Leung recalls in his work that at the end of the XNUMXth century, local authorities compared Vancouver Chinatown with an “ulcer” on the city’s body, putting it in the same category as city sewers, slaughterhouses and pig farms, as an object requiring regular sanitary inspections.

Chinatowns and Asian regions, for example, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century Limehouse in London, were associated not only with physical illnesses, but also with moral decay: sin and perversion, sex trade, smoking opium and gambling allegedly flourished here.

The media, politicians and popular culture eagerly picked up all this, cultivating stereotypes and racial hostility until recently.

“This new virus has revealed what has always existed in a latent state, not on the surface: the fear of another and the idea that bad things come from somewhere outside,” says Professor Cale.

On the subject: Scientists have found a universal way to protect against all viruses at once

“There is a pattern of anti-Chinese racism associated with outbreaks of disease. This is almost a ready-made template that forms a public reaction in response to every outbreak, as happened in 2003 with SARS and is happening now with coronavirus, the researcher adds. “This is a strange phenomenon, which seems to be as difficult to explain as to eradicate.”

“Wash your hands and don't be racist”

Racism is one of the main drivers of dehumanization, says Professor Roger Cale. According to him, as soon as a connection is established in society between certain groups of the population and diseases, “it becomes almost impossible to separate the labeled group from the image of the threat.” The consequences of such racism can be far more devastating and lasting than the outbreak itself.

ИErica Lee, a historian and professor of Asian studies at the University of Minnesota, advises: each time, publishing another post on social networks about coronavirus or interacting with people in life during an outbreak, stop and ask ourselves: would our reaction be the same if the virus didn’t originate in China , but in any European country?

With this opinion agrees Roger Cale. “Everyone can make an effort not to make unnecessary generalizations by applying precautionary measures to protect against the virus,” said the professor. “Instead of avoiding people with a particular background or, for example, not eating in Chinese establishments, better wash your hands and observe good hygiene.”

“Remain human,” he summarizes.

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