Discrimination against Asians in Western countries is spreading faster than the novel coronavirus itself and it requires everyone’s attention, too.
As extreme panic sweeps across the globe, Asians everywhere are experiencing different forms of unfair treatment just because they look Chinese.
In France, where four cases of the virus have been confirmed, many are reporting incidents of abuse on public transport and social media.
This prejudice is also blatantly used in mainstream media, fueling the public’s perception of Asians.
Le Courier Picard, a local newspaper, used the headlines “Alerte jaune” (Yellow alert) and “Le péril jaune?” (Yellow peril?) in their reports of the virus. The headline also includes an image of a Chinese woman wearing a protective mask.
In the U.K., where no case of the virus has even been confirmed, media personalities are promoting tasteless jokes at the expense of the Chinese people.
A tweet from Evening Standard editor George Osborne showed his newspaper’s cartoon of a rat with a face mask, referencing both the virus and the Lunar New Year.
Without verifiable sources, social media users and media platforms have insinuated that the virus may have been caused by some East Asians food choices.
Sam Phan, a student at the University of Manchester, shared how people have been avoiding him during his commute.
“This week, my ethnicity has made me feel like I was part of a threatening and diseased mass,” Phan writes in the Guardian. “To see me as someone who carries the virus just because of my race is, well, just racist.”
“It’s important it is to see us in all our diversity, as individual human beings, and to challenge stereotypes. The coronavirus is a human tragedy, so let’s not allow fear to breed hatred, intolerance and racism,” Phan added.
Cathy Tran, a working woman in France, has heard all sorts of insults from random people. On her way to work, she heard someone say, “Watch out, a Chinese girl is coming our way,”
as she walked. “On my way home from work, a man on a scooter passed me by, telling me to put on a mask,”
Tran told the BBC
French Asians have had enough and now are fighting back on social media using the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I’m not a virus).
“I’m Chinese, but I’m not a virus! I know everyone’s scared of the virus but no prejudice, please,” Lou Chengwang tweeted.
“First of all, all Asian are not Chinese, second all Chinese are not infected with the virus. Stop asking if we’re dangerous if we cough while all the people around us are doing so. ~ thanks #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus,” Twitter user @Wellhein wrote.
“Is it so hilarious with these towns in quarantine, people isolated and deaths?” asks writer-director Grace Ly.
Justin Kong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto chapter, fears that the Asian community in Canada is fearing a similar scenario that happened during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Toronto in 2003.
“The harm was serious,” Kong was quoted as saying. “A loss of income, a loss of jobs, people losing their livelihood, losing their homes. Facing stigma at school, at the workplace.”
He noted that while people are still trying to understand the impact of the novel coronavirus, there is a “fear within the community about the disease and fear of the impact of discrimination in our day-to-day lives; the impact it will have on industries, workers, and small businesses and the community at large.”
At least a group of parents in one school district in Ontario, Canada is already starting to affirm Kong’s fears. Canadian parents have reportedly signed an online petition
urging the school board to request parents whose children or families have recently returned from China “to stay at home and keep isolated for a minimum of 17 days for the purpose of self-quarantine.”
“Perhaps revealing some naiveté, I’m surprised at the level of vitriol towards Chinese people I’m seeing in the comments sections of stories about the Wuhan coronavirus. And I mean towards the people, not the government,” Canadian-based journalist Andrew Kurjata wrote on Twitter.
China is doing what it can to help prevent the spread of the virus. The government has now expanded the lockdown on 16 cities surrounding Wuhan, keeping a combined population of more than 50 million people unable to travel.