Corona Virus an excuse for racism?

Author: Chiara Rambaldi.


The world already assisted the 2013 Ebola outbreak, the deadly haemorrhagic fever which spread from Guinea. More than 10,000 people were killed, a tragic death toll also due to the slow response of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which underestimated the potential of the killer fever. Nine months passed before the WHO stopped being "blind" and put together some solutions for the dramatic disease in which saw people desperate for any sort of survival and help.

Seven years later, the response to the outbreak in China of a new-born coronavirus shows how much the WHO and the world's leaders have learned from the past.

The first Coronavirus case reported to the WHO was on December 31st. On January 2nd the WHO already started mobilising its worldwide network in order not to repeat the same failures experienced during the Ebola crisis.


With the WHO's help, Chinese experts identified the cause of the unknown disease. The source was traced to a wet market in Wuhan. But they had to work out what to do to minimize the risk to the population. The response was delivering travel advice and disease-management recommendations, but also medical supplies for diagnosis and treatment, and guidelines for monitoring and managing the disease.


Today, the death toll and the number of infected people appears to be at bay in China, according to official data released by the Chinese government.




We need to stop looking at [Chinese people] through an Orientalist perspective - theory claiming the Western culture is superior to the Eastern one”.





While many people are already in intensive care and the number of sick people is quickly rising and spreading in other countries outside of China, the heartening thing is that the world has responded much better than it has in the past. Nissy Mungombe, a 20-year-old girl from a BAME background was struck by the WHO’s quick response which was completely different form how the Ebola situation was managed. Clearly, the WHO is far from perfect, but it does seem to have approached a first defence line.


However, Nissy firmly believes there is a lot of misinformation going around that could be avoided. She asked:


“Why is this virus such a danger if the common flu kills more people compared to that? When it first came out, I was very scared. I thought of a new Ebola-like epidemic that has jumped onto humans and is spreading around the globe. However, the normal flu apparently is more dangerous, so I do not know how to feel now. We are bombarded with lot of contrasting information”.


Nonetheless, Nissy brings up another issue: racism. In fact, even if a tragic disease is threatening the world, racism seems to be an underlying wall always ready to break down.

In just a matter of days after the ‘pandemic’ was announced, many offensive coronavirus posts have connected the virus to Chinese people's supposed appetite for bats, which has been labelled ‘disgusting’, ‘dangerous’, and something people don't eat "in the normal world."


Nissy commented on this racist view asserting that these phenomena can bring out the worst in people since racism against BAME groups has never disappeared. However, she thinks that the solution to this is information and education, the keys to challenge ignorant views. “There is the Western view on the meaning of what ‘normal’ is, and if you do not agree with the Western vision you are not worthy. Wet markets are obviously not safe, but we do not need to make China ‘normal’. We need to stop looking at them through an Orientalist perspective - theory claiming the Western culture is superior to the Eastern one”.


Moreover, videos and social networks' posts about Chinese people attracted other several racist comments like "Where is the bat in your soups?" or "Its corona time", making jokes of a very serious and dramatic issue. While the World Health Organization is trying to contain the disease, anti-Asian racism and xenophobia have continued unabated. Different Chinese businesses immediately suffered because people shared false credos and stereotypes believing that Chinese dishes could somehow harbour the virus.


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Many social media users blame Chinese people - or people presumed to be Chinese - for creating and spreading the virus damaging identities, spreading racist attitudes, and sharing fake news among people. "Stay away from your Asian friends" or "stay away from international students" is what Nissy has heard around her university. These are clear examples of phrase-like cases of xenophobic comments that social media are spreading and creating ignorant and false ideas among societies, which easily reach ‘less-educated’ people in society, with the result they believe in everything they are hearing. These signs can be read as perpetual symptoms of an unintegrated and exclusive world, in which BAME people are usually seen as foreigners in the country they were born and raised.


Undoubtedly, racism still is a transnational plague. “The problem is that the majority of people do not view word-microaggressions as a form of racism” according to Nissy. “They think it's a funny joke, but they put people’s well-being at risk”. Chinese communities in the UK and worldwide say they've been treated with suspicion since the virus made international outbreak. Nissy’s Chinese friend who once purposefully coughed near a woman while queuing, said she ran away with terror in her eyes.


“We're expecting things like people running away from a purposefully coughing Chinese to happen just because of what the media created” says Nissy. "People will look at Chinese people’s black hair and 'yellow' skin and label them as they have always done, considering the potentiality that they could be subject to racism when they go out."


Unfortunately, racism is far from over. When will justice be done to stop the never-ending suffering created by a continuous cycle of racism?

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