Social Commentary

Coronavirus: A Timely Mask For Discrimination

Like the rest of the world, I am closely observing the latest developments of the Novel Coronavirus, also known as, COVID-19. If you’re not an infectious disease specialist or epidemiologist, the term coronavirus seems incredibly foreign and scary. In reality, coronavirus is the family name for different types of viruses; they cause illnesses as simple as the common cold, to more complex, such as SARS. COVID-19 is a newly identified coronavirus, not previously found in humans. The first cases of the COVID-19 outbreak were reported in Wuhan, China in the winter of 2019. As of March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization labeled it a pandemic.

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Cue 19th century era yellow peril!

Since media outlets have been reporting on COVID-19, there has been an uptick in discriminatory behaviors, specifically against those of Asian ethnicity. In the United States and around the globe, rampant xenophobia is causing harm to communities, including death. Much like the increase of rhetoric and bravado from White Supremacists in the United States post the election of Donald Trump; COVID-19 has made way for a similar dynamic under the guise of fear and safety. On city streets and public spaces, civilians are being berated, ridiculed, threatened, assaulted, and killed all fueled by ignorance, sensationalism, and straight racism.

Since the die down of the yellow peril, a time in the 19th century where East Asians were seen as a sizable threat to White Europeans and North Americans, Asians have been transitioned to model minority status. The model minority, another divisive social construct, pits non-White races against each other, believing that certain racial groups have an elevated socioeconomic status, intelligence, and lower eminent threat that gains them privileges and aligns them closer to whiteness. This is primarily a United States-based lens, but it has influenced other parts of the world. One thing COVID-19 has showcased is how pliable and disposable beliefs and people are. However, as a minority considered at the bottom of the racial hierarchy, we’ve always known this. For many others, this experience, unfortunately, is a wake-up call.

In addition to the increased racial tensions, there is an increase in callous dialogue as it pertains to taking health precautions. The most vulnerable population affected by the virus is the elderly and immunocompromised, which honestly is the most vulnerable population for all illnesses. However, this is being treated as it is okay to be careless if you don’t fall into that category and/or a form of thinning the herd, meaning “nature” is taking care of controlling the population by killing the weak. Sounds pretty shitty right? It’s not just internet trolls and immature adults echoing these sentiments; I work in healthcare, for a large health system, and I have heard jokes and nonchalant comments made from physicians, hospital administrators, and CEOs. There’s clearly an image being conjured in people’s heads in regards to these two groups. Apparently, as a whole, adults over 65 are weak and inherently unwell upon reaching their 65th birthday. As a culture, we’ve seemed to have forgotten to people continue to leave long, healthy lives despite their age. For the immunocompromised, there seems to be an image of bed-ridden, terminally ill patients; not considering at all that people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, HIV, cancer, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, etc., have weakened immune systems. Healthcare has always had discriminatory practices, it’s 2020 and we’re still withholding treatments and resources based on misinformation, group think, and selfishness. The mass public hoarding supplies that are crucial to those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and other vulnerabilities puts those at further risk.

This illness, and many others, does not see sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age or socioeconomic status. The lack of care, compassion, and empathy displayed across continents is upsetting, to say the least. With everyone being in self-preservation mode, we’ve lost sight of what’s important and what makes sense. Human behavior can both mitigate and exacerbate the spread of disease around the world; we have a lot more control than we realize.

  • Wash your hands frequently, even at home
  • Practice social distancing
  • Clean high touch objects often, e.g. cell phones, computers, and door knobs
  • Cover your month when you cough and sneeze
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Really consider your symptoms before you go to the ER
  • Be a caring person

You may not get sick, but you can pass it on to others, which is why everyone needs to cooperate. This is not the time to let our biases show and fear get the best of us.

Ignorance spreads faster than any illness.

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Resources and Citations:

Center of Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

As Coronavirus Spreads, So Does Xenophobia and Anti-Asian Racism: https://time.com/5797836/coronavirus-racism-stereotypes-attacks/

Infections in the Immunocompromised Host : https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/973120-overview

Yellow Peril: 19th-Century Scapegoating: aaww.org/yellow-peril-scapegoating/

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