Xenophobia and the Coronavirus


Photo: mommyish blog

Erin Hong, Staff Writer

According to NBC News, the new coronavirus outbreak, now called COVID-19, has created anxiety and fear all over the world since its inception centered in Wuhan, China. As the frightening numbers are steadily increasing, nearly 60,000 cases and over 1,300 deaths have been confirmed in mainland China. Even in the US, 15 cases have been confirmed. 

The fear of the virus, especially in North America and the West, has brought with it hostility and xenophobia toward East Asian people. In Canada, Taiwanese Canadian Ingrid Chang reported a video about a man saying “you dropped your coronavirus” to a young woman and to her mother. In Rome, a social media post about a sign barring people from China popped up outside the Hotel Relais Fontana di Trevi. Italian media claimed that a spokesperson and deputy manager of the establishment denied the accusations of racism: “It’s absolutely not anything against people of Chinese nationality. In fact, the sign clearly specifies that entrance is forbidden… for people who have come from China.” Chinese restaurants in the United Kingdom as well as various other parts of the world, because of fallacies about the ‘cleanliness’ of their food, are struggling for business.

Many believe that the coronavirus hasn’t created xenophobia, but rather exposed it. The fact that some consider this xenophobia ‘normal’ proves that this case is uncovering something that has been firmly ensconced in Western culture. Edith Brancho-Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, explained that “misinformation, coupled with the fear that it provokes, can bring existing xenophobia to light. As human beings, we are afraid of the things we don’t know, but our response should be to educate ourselves, not to further spread and give oxygen to fears and misunderstandings.” In fact, there is a specific word for this type of hostility. It is called sinophobia, or hostility against China, its people, people of Chinese descent, or Chinese culture. 

The cost of this xenophobia is grave; Bracho-Sanchez states that with it, we “run the risk of losing perspective on who the real victims are.” The outbreak of this coronavirus is extremely severe. In addition to being ostracized by the world and even the rest of China, regions like Wuhan do not have enough medical resources and the number of deaths are rising with each day. It seems like it’s the time to redirect our fears into a different direction.