The Coronavirus Is Fueling a Harmful Epidemic of Racism

Ignorance and Fear Have Fostered Anti-Asian Sentiment that Defies Logic

Esther Cull-Kahn, Contributing Writer

Over the past month, the coronavirus, a deadly respiratory disease, has struck communities in China and sparked worldwide concern, but it’s not the only epidemic spreading. Anti-Asian sentiment is spreading like wildfire, which promotes discrimination and is a threat to safety. In New South Wales, Australia, a man died in a Chinese restaurant after being refused CPR by a passerby who feared contracting the coronavirus. In the United States, Asians of all origins are being denied service, avoided, and bullied because of their physical appearance. The current marginalization of both Chinese and other Asian people is not only appalling, but shows the disgusting nature of racism that has been adopted absentmindedly. 

Despite the recent surge in anti-Asian sentiment across the United States, it would be naive and inaccurate to assume that the onset of the coronavirus was the first case of discrimination in our history. It is a trend in American history for racists to find “reasoning” for the marginalization of minorities. For example, slave-owners rationalized the selling, beating, and killing of African Americans with the ideology that the African American race was inferior. 

The outbreak of the virus serves as a “warrant” for the avoidance and prejudice against Asians. Racism has never been founded by logic; instead it manipulates its rationale to the point of pure delusion. This injustice grew past implicit bias and became an epidemic against anyone who looks Asian by portraying Asians as threats to public health. The coronavirus is not the first disease to have a rapid outbreak, and Asia is not the usual epicenter for most viruses. Regardless of these facts, though, Asians have faced the largest backlash and avoidance following this health epidemic. The discrimination is not only inhumane, it is completely irrational.

The panicked reaction to the coronavirus proves how irrational fear is one of the main factors in racism—mix in ignorance, and you get a dangerous kind of prejudice that affects real people, many of whom are in our own community.

The best way to counteract this senseless racism from spreading is through facts.

The best way to counteract this senseless racism from spreading is through facts. Here are some of the things we know so far: the virus is respiratory and mainly affects the elderly or those with weakened immune systems; symptoms of a respiratory disease include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, and a sore throat, similar to the common cold; initial reports are that only 2% of the people who get the virus will die from it; and the genetic sequence of the virus has already been identified and scientists estimate they may be able to test experimental vaccines in only a few months from now. 

Around 99% of the people who have the coronavirus are in China, and the United States has banned entry to people from China. Asian-looking people in our community are not more vulnerable to the virus, nor are they more likely to transmit it.

Clearly, the coronavirus does not pose the threat it has been advertised to hold. Bullying, avoiding or stigmatizing Asian-looking people does not protect anyone from getting the coronavirus—it is only an ignorant exhibition of racism.

This piece also appears in our February 2020 print edition.