“As Coronavirus Spreads, So Does Anti-Chinese Sentiment,” read a recent headline from The New York Times. The article continued to report on the wave of Sinophobia spreading along with the deadly outbreak, which the World Health Organization has now declared a “global health emergency”. The measures taken to contain the contagion – from national health services activating quarantine protocols to commercial airlines canceling flights to and from China – are, to some extent, comforting. What is unsettling, however, is the apparent normalization of racial profiling entangled with this entire ordeal.
The logic behind the profiling is a bit rudimentary, but understandable: The virus originated out of Wuhan, so avoiding people from China might reduce chances of contagion. The unfortunate side effect of this approach is that it leads to unwarranted suspicion casted upon the entire Asian community and the ostracization that follows: For example, University of California Berkeley tweeted last week (and subsequently deleted) that “fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia” is one of the “common reactions” to the outbreak, as if to alleviate the guilt that comes with racial profiling. It is this type of moral licensing that kindles xenophobia, which is seemingly on the rise with some schools now turning Chinese exchange students away or requiring them to be quarantined before being admitted on campus. (As a side note, welcome to Maastricht new exchange students!)
Passive racism, even disguised as a genuine health concern, is still wrong. Nevertheless, this problem appears to be trending. During the Liverpool game over the weekend (with the dominant Reds marching on towards their inevitable Championship), Twitter went off on how their new January signing – Takumi Minamino – might contaminate the team with the virus and ruin Liverpool’s chances of winning the title. Leaving aside the ‘trivial’ fact that Minamino is Japanese, some have taken the Coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to legitimize discriminating against Asians. So unfortunately for the Asian community, this health emergency is now coupled with the risk of public shaming, mockery, and ostracization.
Maybe I’m just being an overly sensitive snowflake, but it breaks my heart to hear that some of our students have reported being bullied by these kinds of distasteful antics and remarks at our University. I just hope that – at the very least – my little half-Asian baby will be spared from all of the nasty negativity surrounding this outbreak. Though, to be fair, he has been coughing, puking, and non-stop-diarrhea-pooping for about a week now.
assistant Professor of Private Law