The past few weeks, we’ve been bombarded with information and subsequent panic regarding the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus. Countless social media posts, memes, and news stories have contributed to a general culture of xenophobia and anti-Chinese sentiment.
Let’s get some things straight about COVID-19:
It is a respiratory illness
It is not airborne in the sense of the classic flu—the particles are heavier than air and a person is unlikely to contract it unless they are directly coughed on
To prevent contraction, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends regular hand washing and covering the mouth when sneezing and coughing—basic hygiene
Currently, about 80 percent of infected patients have recovered from the illness, and only 2 percent have died, according to the WHO
Ignoring these facts is ignoring the reality of the situation, and creating a fabricated one to better suit the narrative of how we view East Asia. Misplaced fear does no more than add to the stigma against East Asians.
This dangerous sentiment is not absent at Wilson. Students wearing masks have walked through the hallways pretending to cough and others make jokes about how the spread of the disease was due to Chinese people eating bats or cats and dogs. While it’s entirely offensive to joke about a virus that has affected the lives of so many, it’s even more so to imply that the people affected the most by it are the ones to blame.
Overt anti-East Asian racism at Wilson has always been present, however coronavirus has amplified these sentiments. Just five percent of Wilson students are Asian. This small population means the community is often isolated from the rest of the school and their problems are largely glossed over. Anti-Asian jokes and microaggressions run rampant at Wilson, but the Asian community is still left out of larger conversations of racism. The amplification of xenophobia sparked by coronavirus demands us to recognize our otherwise unspoken culture of prejudice towards Asians at our school.
We can’t continue to leave harmful messages unquestioned. It is not simply enough to not partake in racist rhetoric, we must counter it and object to it at every turn. When we hear what sounds like a casual joke, we should make an effort to understand what the underlying message is. We are all responsible for ensuring that we are accurately informed, especially when what we say has such a powerful impact on how entire communities and cultures are perceived.