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The coronavirus outbreak is opening wounds of racism and xenophobia

By McKayla Castigador

Opinion Columnist

The novel coronavirus outbreak is opening the wounds of racism and xenophobia towards Asian people. As an Asian-American girl, my culture has influenced the way I view myself. I never expected that the way I look as an Asian-American would change a person’s interaction with me.

At this point of time, the way I look is crucial because many non-Asians will think I am exposing them to sickness.  It scares me to know people might look at me and think I am a carrier of coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control has been constantly updating information regarding the outbreak of coronavirus. According to the CDC, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness first recognized in Wuhan, China. 

This new virus has been rapidly spreading, and misinformation has been rapidly spreading as well.  Such misinformation has created fear surrounding the coronavirus, and many are scared of being exposed to it.  As the death toll is rising, fear has been felt by more and more people. The racism and stereotyping is what makes Asian people feel dehumanized.

Rainier Spanish teacher Rebekah Green experienced an odd interaction at a restaurant during her trip to Taiwan in mid-February.  In the restaurant, there were some people wearing masks and some people not wearing masks.  

“My boyfriend and I were in Taipei. One girl approached us, and she was wearing a mask.  She told us to stop talking because there was a sign that said if you’re not wearing a mask, you cannot speak,” Ms. Green said.

They did not speak while eating their meal.  To their surprise, there was no sign on the door.  Ms. Green then explained, “There was no sign. That was just a really scared person.” 

It is OK to be cautious, but there is a limit to being cautious. You should not be able to deny someone the right to speak or do something because you might believe that the person could be a carrier of the coronavirus.

You can see examples of misinformation when people talk: they say coronavirus started by people eating a bat in Wuhan. There are many examples of this misinformation in our media. Also, we see our entertainment joke about getting the virus from Asian people, and those jokes are widely circulated throughout our society.

Even further, UC Berkeley ended up posting on their Instagram  an infographic that normalized xenophobia and racism.  It’s not acceptable to say that xenophobia is “normal.”  I am sure a lot of people are feeling disrespected and disgusted by the fact that UC Berkeley said that it is okay to feel that way.

On Feb. 10, Koeun Kim voiced on Instagram how a sign posted on a bathroom designed for passengers and crew on a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight suggested hundreds of Korean passengers could have the novel coronavirus. The sign written by the crew members stated “crew members only” in Korean in an attempt to prevent the coronavirus from reaching the crew members on the flight.

In an interview with Kim, she said the passengers on that flight were not flying from China, they were flying from Europe to Korea without stopping over. “The thing that was most disappointing was that when I asked why it was written only in Korean, the crew was very hostile,” she said.

Kim simply asked a question, only to be met with frustration and anger from the crew members. Such behavior is the reason why the coronavirus is opening up wounds of racism and xenophobia towards Asian people.  

Kim was able to get an apology from KLM airline through the help of Korean journalists.  However, that experience should have never happened in the first place.

Although we might think that putting a sign can be considered prevention, we still need to realize that we are all human, and one’s race should not alter this.  Despite the coronavirus outbreak mainly infecting the Asian demographic, anybody can be a carrier of the virus.  

We have seen this type of racism appear in 2014, when the Ebola virus outbreak scared people.  The United States became divided at that time deciding whether or not to close our borders to those in need of proper healthcare.

The Ebola virus epidemic was a time where many people were facing uncomfortable fears towards African people, similar to how the coronavirus is spreading fear towards Asian people.  This physiological effect caused by Ebola is the same type of stigma now being created and aimed towards the entire Asian population.

I am afraid to get coronavirus, but I do not support people using the evolving epidemic known as coronavirus as leverage to voice fears of Chinese people in particular or Asian people as a whole.  It is immoral to use the coronavirus as a reason to be racist.

The coronavirus is an epidemic, and some might say it is evolving into a pandemic.  At this time we are vulnerable and scared of being exposed to the virus; however, this is not the time to start discriminating against others. 

Featured image (at the top of this post): Crew members left a note in Korean that appeared to be targeting Asian passengers on a KLM flight. PHOTO CREDIT: Koeun Kim


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