Before the long Chinese New Year weekend, I asked a coworker if he was going somewhere. He said he had plans to visit Japan. He just hoped that he won’t be encountering too many Chinese tourists because of the coronavirus which is all over the news at the moment. I shrug and nod at the thought.
After living in Korea for so many years, I could differentiate Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese by the way they look, dress, and behave, especially as tourists. Listening to that comment, it’s a bit odd to hear such casual xenophobia from coworkers, when from a western point of view, he might as well be Chinese himself. Right now, I’m seeing Chinese Canadians are reporting being stigmatized due to fear of being infected by the virus. The same goes in other parts of the world. News about French newspapers being particularly insensitive towards their Chinese populace has been going viral, no pun intended. Asians aren’t usually very loud when they suffer racism. In fact, many racist Asian tropes have been so normalized due to people suffering in silence that it takes a fair amount of time to convince them that such tropes are racist.
In any case, I think situations like these are just catalysts for internal racist attitudes to be openly vented. I was inclined to believe that racism against Chinese people overseas due to the virus was just media hype, but then again, I’ve seen people in Korea actually fearing the Chinese. Chinese students and instructors who visited China during the break are asked not to attend school for at least two weeks. Places where Chinese tourists usually crowd in the city look quite empty. I haven’t really seen this strong a reaction in people and in the media since the avian flu hit the country, not with SARS or MERS. And even with the avian flu, the only time it affected me was not being able to visit the aviary in the zoo.
Anyway, I’m not really too concerned about it at the moment. I still believe that the rate of infection and casualty is still pretty low compared to other diseases that were previously hyped up. Though the youngest casualty is 36 years young, the majority of the casualties are over 60 years old. Videos of tents and Chinese medical professionals yelling instructions in Chinese might sound scary, but I don’t think it’s too much to get into a panic over. Tents with sick people, hazmat suits, loud foreign language… these are all intimidating at a very basic level. Then you add in some communism and a distrust of the Chinese government and you have a potent mixture of irrational fear that allows you to be dumb, or at its worst, be unkind to your neighbors.
Gotta keep calm.
Just stay healthy, eat right, wash your damned hands, and be nice to Asians.