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The realities of coronavirus hysteria

| Tuesday, February 11, 2020

As a pre-med student, I would like nothing more than for this article to actually be about the outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. I wish that I could cover the pathology, the virus’s structure and all of the other things that I get to drone on about to people that have absolutely no clue what I’m saying. But that’s not what I get to do. Because this outbreak has brought with it even more darkness than is already necessary. For those of you who don’t know about it, I’m talking about the xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiments that have erupted from these events.

Before I get into it, I want to make a clarifying statement. I’m not trying to pretend like these experiences are limited to only a certain group of people. If this comes off as dismissive, I truly apologize. I also am not claiming to “speak for” anybody besides myself. Those mentioned in this article are all individuals with their own thoughts and voices — to lump such a large group of diverse people into one homogenous group would be doing them a great disservice. So this article is by me. Just me. My problems are not their problems; their views are not my views. Got it?

Now, if you aren’t aware of it, all you need to do is log on to Twitter for a few minutes and look at dozens upon dozens of people sharing their stories. Did you miss a day of school and happen to be Asian? Oh no, you must have coronavirus. Did you cough while appearing to be roughly of Chinese descent? Enjoy people recoiling away from you, since clearly coronavirus is the only possible culprit. And it’s not just individuals! Major corporations have seized this opportunity to discriminate, too! I mean, Royal Caribbean International, a global company that raked in $9.49 billion in 2018, has shown itself as a real go-getter when it comes to being discriminatory. They made the visionary (and not-at-all racist) decision to ban anybody with a passport from China, Hong Kong or Macao, regardless of how long it has been since they’ve actually visited the country. After all, you can never be too careful.

Even completely innocent actions have led to painfully racist responses. I was scrolling through TikTok last week (yes, I use TikTok, fight me) when I saw a video from a Vietnamese-American creator on my For You page. In the video, they were eating pho, using chopsticks to hold a spoon. By all accounts, a funny and harmless video lightly teasing themselves and their own culture, right? But I made the mistake of looking at the comments. “Where is the bat in your soups?” one user said. “It’s corona time,” another commented. I hope that I don’t even need to say how unnecessary and racist these remarks are, and that’s without even considering the ignorance in making these comments to Vietnamese-Americans, who don’t even “come from” China. Schoolchildren have taken it upon themselves to play a game where they test their Asian classmates for coronavirus. Some have gone so far as to try to isolate these students in an attempt to quarantine them. And in case you think these are just examples of “kids being kids,” Asian workers in healthcare have been told by their coworkers to stay home and stop spreading coronavirus. 

But these remarks aren’t anything new. For decades, anti-Asian sentiments and Sinophobia (specifically anti-Chinese sentiments) have been a part of our culture. Slurs for Chinese people (that I won’t allow to be a part of this article) have been a part of our vocabulary for years. They are often seen as dirty. After all, everybody knows that Chinese people already eat dogs, so is it really that crazy that they would eat bats and cause this virus?

What’s most impressive about this entire situation to me is how little effort some people are putting into their attempt to justify this racism. “It’s all about public health,” some of them might say. Yet they seem to really only be focused on the 12 confirmed cases and 1 death in the United States (as of Saturday, February 8, 2020). They don’t seem to care about the 37,000+ cases and 800+ deaths in China. Nor do they really seem to bat an eyelash at the fact that this flu season alone, the flu has caused at least 210,000 hospitalizations and at least 12,000 deaths in the United States.

Now, if you want to take this opportunity to critique how the Chinese government has handled this situation, please do so. I detest the fact that they silenced “whistleblowers” who detected this virus before the outbreak and attempted to stop it. I hate that this decision has contributed to the death of Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who was on the front lines of fighting this disease — and who should be considered a hero. I loathe the fact that they have ordered many bodies to be cremated in order to make the virus seem less deadly than it truly is. But these are all issues with government, not average people. I can promise you that the person sitting next to you on the bus that you’re 80% sure looks Chinese had nothing to do with any of this.

I don’t say this because I think all is well. The WHO has (rightly) declared this situation as a Global Health Emergency. Panic is a natural response to this type of situation. That’s just human nature. But despite what some may have you think (looking at you, UC Berkeley), xenophobia is not one of those natural responses. There are already thousands of people suffering from this disease around the world. So why do so many of us feel the need to add on to this suffering all on our own?

Anthony Pérez is a sophomore who is currently struggling to decide if eight more years of school is really worth it. He is majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior, with a pre-medical concentration. In the spirit of science, he realizes that citations aren’t enough to make things true, so he invites any thoughts, criticisms and/or hate mail to be sent to him at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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