Updated: Mar 16
As the scale of Coronavirus escalates on a global scale, harmful stereotypes and racism towards Asians also arise – as seen in recent attacks reported in the US, UK and across Europe. While it’s inevitable for finger-pointing and social tension to occur during a global health emergency, let’s remember xenophobia simply isn’t the “cure” for Coronavirus.
The fear of the coronavirus being spread rapidly throughout China has provoked discrimination against anyone perceived to be Chinese.
When you think it is only those individuals who are guilty of such an act, some media giants might have gone too far with their use of language and visuals when reporting the status of the situation. According to The Straits Times:
Australia's Herald Sun blazoned "China Kids Stay Home" on its front page
A French local paper ran articles headlined "New Yellow Peril" and "Yellow Alert"
In some Europe countries, some non-Chinese Asians have even felt the need to make clear that they are not Chinese. Rumours, misinformation and fears about the novel coronavirus have flooded social media and news worldwide, blaming Chinese people for forming and spreading the virus. (Source)
The epidemic has ignited attacks on mainland Chinese, including Hong Kongers and other members of the diaspora.
Ever since the first few cases were reported in Wuhan towards the end of 2019, the news went viral on social media as rumours also spread like wildfire.
Meanwhile, outside of China, cases of extreme racial discrimination or even violence targeted at Asians have been reported around the world.
Uber and Lyft Riders
According to CNBC, Uber and Lyft riders of Asian descent experienced racial discrimination from drivers. Lilian Wang was turned down by her Lyft driver as he claimed that he simply refuses rides from people with Asian sounding names.
Discrimination faced by Singapore Healthcare Officers
Healthcare workers in Singapore, on the other hand, also face a certain degree of discrimination from the public, as people are wary about their close contact with patients diagnosed with coronavirus. “Nurses [were being] asked not to take the lift, take the stairs instead. Nurses have been asked to leave the train ... Ambulance drivers being asked not to buy food, so as not to contaminate others," said Mr Amrin. (Source)
“These are very unfortunate incidents, and it's very disgraceful.”
As the mass panic escalates globally, so did the spread of misinformation and fake news. Despite not having any connection with the mainland Chinese who lives in Wuhan, Chinese-Americans have also been receiving mistreatments due to their Chinese descent.
Discrimination towards Chinese-Americans
One official who works at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention said:
"We’re already worried about [stigma] here in the U.S. and around the world, that somebody coming back from this community or that community may be treated differently ... and businesses in a certain neighborhood may be boycotted,"
Chinese-Americans and other people of Asian decent admit to suppressing their coughs and runny noses in public to avoid unwanted stares or social isolation
On U.S. college campuses, some non-Asian students acknowledged avoiding Asian classmates for no other reason than the virus's surge in China.
The coronavirus has an unknown animal host, spurring comments on social media that revive racist tropes about food.
Flashback: The 2013–2016 Ebola outbreak also increased "stigma, discrimination and blame" toward communities perceived as African in non-African countries, the World Health Organization observed.
Anti-Asian cases – both verbal abuse and physical attacks, are also reported in Germany. A Chinese female student studying abroad in Berlin was attacked with physically injures for wearing a face mask. However, interviewees highlighted that such cases were not a direct result of the Wuhan epidemic. Instead, they were merely triggered by the deep-rooted rejection of foreigners among the German population, according to BBC China.
Many tourist areas in Vietnam have put up notices that say "Chinese people are not allowed", and there is an increasing number of cases where Chinese tourists were being rejected by hotels.
Erin Wen Ai Chew, a 37-year-old entrepreneur with Chinese ancestry, told The Verge about a recent experience in an Australian airport. Chew says a white woman eyed every Asian person passing by, especially those wearing face masks, as though searching for signs of disease. Chew purposefully coughed near the woman, who, she says, ran away, eyes wide with terror. Chew says:
“We know that people will look at our black hair and ‘yellow’ skin and target us… There’s a lot of anger, a lot of resentment, and also a lot of dread to know that when we go out, we could be subject to racism.”
One of the Hong Kong restaurant posted this on Facebook:
“From now on, we will only serve Hongkongers. Only Cantonese and English are allowed when placing orders. We do not serve Mandarin speakers. Taiwanese people are allowed.”
The coronavirus outbreak, which started in mainland China and has spread to Hong Kong, has become the latest fuel in the anti-mainland sentiment in the former British colony.
A number of restaurants, eateries, dessert shops, and barbershops in Hong Kong have announced bans on non-Hong Kong or Mandarin-speaking customers. This is to protest the government’s failure to seal the border due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, reported HK 01.
Looking at Wo’s restaurant for example, posted a Facebook post on Feb 05 stating no “mainlanders” or Mandarin-speaking customers are allowed in the store, except Taiwanese.
Other restaurants in Hong Kong went a step further by requiring ID documents before granting access.
A piece of paper on the door says, “Forgive us for not serving mainlanders. We only want to live longer.” created a passive-aggressive note for customers entering the shop.
Let’s put things into perspective here, does the “Hongkongers-only” rule really work? Does it factor in those native Hongkongers who are infected with the coronavirus, or those who just traveled to Wuhan, or a foreigner?
One argued if the restaurants really cared so much about the public health, would it not be easier to just check the body temperature of every individual customer coming in instead of a note targeting to exclude mainlanders?
A social sciences lecturer at Education University of Hong Kong said:
The movement is more a “political statement” than one intended to effectively ward off the coronavirus. The city government has made blunders in tackling public crises, including failing to appease public fear and anger, which has led to simmering discrimination, she reckoned.
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