The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sparked hysteria and fear amongst people globally as the death toll continues to rise to above 400 and the number of people infected reaches above 20,000. Scientists are unsure how it spreads; the virus can take several days before showing symptoms and there is currently no mainstream cure. As the threat of a pandemic continues to grow, many people have turned to xenophobia and racism as a coping mechanism.
In a since deleted Instagram post from the University of California at Berkeley’s health services instagram (@bewellcal), an infographic stated xenophobia as a normal response to the coronavirus amongst anxiety and social withdrawal. The post received backlash for normalizing and promoting racism.
On Twitter, many memes targeting Chinese people have gone viral where people use xenophobia as a punchline in their jokes. This situation parallels the Ebola virus disease: a virus that alters how the blood clots. In its prime, this epidemic mainly affected African countries originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a result, many African people in the United States suffered bullying, which was often disguised as humor, and it isolated them.
While some people lightheartedly joke about the coronavirus, the real-life implications are nothing to laugh about. Wuhan has been on lockdown, meaning that transportation has been down, businesses have been closed, and people have not been permitted to leave the city, since January 23. Nine million people are stuck, with many of them, including college students, trying to find a way to leave. Wuhan has been reduced to a “ghost city” with people only leaving their homes when absolutely necessary. There are shortages and long lines for face masks. Their reality is something out of a dystopian movie.
Jokes about the coronavirus may be trendy but the reality is that people are suffering and targeting Asian Americans with xenophobic comments. If we can learn anything from our past mistakes with the Ebola virus, it can be that racism is never the path to take.