A good friend of mine was walking back home from her class. For whatever reason, she coughed lightly. As soon as she did, however, she could feel someone looking at her, almost giving her a glare, from across the street. My friend is Korean American.
I live in an apartment where other international students from a number of different countries reside. I have run into neighbors who come from India, France, China and more places. One day, as I let out a big breath of relief the long day was over while waiting for the elevator up to the eighth floor, three of my neighbors joined me. One was from China. He was talking on the phone before getting in the elevator, and I could make out some of what he was saying, thanks to my Chinese minor. The other two were English-speaking male friends. The four of us boarded the elevator. By the time we reached the third floor, my Chinese neighbor let out a sneeze. Unfortunately, it was loosely covered as it may have caught him somewhat off guard. The two English-speaking friends immediately looked at each other as one whispered, “Is he …?”
Novel coronavirus originated from Wuhan, a city in Hubei province of mainland China. The city has a population of nearly 20 million and is the sixth biggest in China. According to the BBC, there are more than 17,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and some 361 deaths in China. Experts are saying it is still too early to determine exactly how fatal the disease is due to the possibility of undocumented cases. However, most infected people are expected to fully recover in a week, like from a normal flu. Following the breakout of this epidemic, economists and financial experts are anticipating a disruption in the global economy, given China’s emergence in the global market as a superpower.
Despite the severity of the disease, it is not an excuse to overreact against Asians in general. The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared a global health emergency. Officials and governing bodies, including the Chinese government and the University of Michigan, have taken measures to prevent the disease from spreading — though they may differ in extent. However, this does not give anyone the right to bring race or ethnicity into the discussion. We see cases of xenophobia and racism brought on by diseases elsewhere. President Trump has banned foreign nationals from reentering the United States if they have traveled to China in the past 14 days, even though this goes against the WHO guidance. It seems as if panic about the disease is spreading fast. But the recent trend of anti-Asian racism is not limited to the U.S. Some Italian businesses are not allowing Chinese people entry, and London’s Chinatown has turned into a ghost town.
As important as it is to be conscious about our personal hygiene in order to prevent the disease from spreading, it is equally important to be aware that Asians are not to blame. There was racial backlash with the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak. Some Chinatowns were shunned, and similar forms of racism arose. The coronavirus epidemic cannot repeat the rhetoric of blindly blaming Asians, especially Chinese people. The disease may have no correlation to its alleged origin — a market in Wuhan — which means the Chinese food the anti-Asian racists label as “dirty” or “unusual” will be free from blame. We must stay away from offensive speculation. We must understand that we are all different in distinct ways, including our diet. In the end, uninformed bias and blind hatred may be more dangerous than the coronavirus itself.
Min Soo Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.