COVID-19 spreads ignorance and xenophobia

Illustration by Shelsey Braswell

The recent news of the COVID-19 virus spreading across international borders has created more than just concerns of infection. The worldwide panic and hysteria are causing racism and xenophobia toward Asians all over the world.

Since the new virus originated in Wuhan, China, there is now a stigma being spread on social media that Eastern Asian people are spreading the virus. This preconceived notion that any person of Eastern Asian descent could be infected is promoting fear and violence.

The heightened fear of the virus can be exemplified through the recent assault of Jonathan Muk. As CNN reported, Muk is an international student from Singapore who was studying in London. On Feb. 24, he was walking alone late at night when he suddenly found himself surrounded by strangers. The group made harassing remarks to Muk before physically assaulting him. According to reports, one member of the group told Muk, “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country,” before striking him in the face.

The aftermath of the assault left Muk with a few fractures and a black eye. The severity of his injuries led to doctors recommending that Muk may need facial reconstructive surgery.

“I just could not understand why someone would target another person simply because of their skin color — it simply does not make sense to me,” Muk said when he spoke to BBC News regarding the reason for the group attacking him.

This horrendous example shows that people are using the virus as an excuse to target those who look Eastern Asian. Muk isn’t the only person to be physically assaulted for being Chinese, but in any case, it’s appalling to hear that many are being targeted based on their appearance.

With the virus originating in Wuhan, people are believing that Eastern Asians are a danger to the community and country. For many Eastern Asians, they are fighting on two fronts: the virus and the bigotry.

This cynical attitude toward Eastern Asians isn’t just occurring outside of the United States. Well-known communities, like San Francisco’s Chinatown, are also experiencing racial issues, according to an NBC News article. A protest was held March 1 by the merchants of Chinatown to combat racism and spread awareness of how it affects the Asian community. The merchants have been experiencing a substantial loss of customers since the recent outbreak, and it’s obvious as to why.

Junior Yifan Zhang is a Chinese international student studying at NAU and is concerned about COVID-19. Zhang said she wants to be proactive about the virus and has bought a surgical mask as protection.

“If Asians wore the face mask, Americans would worry because the mask gives others the reason to avoid you,” Zhang said.

She fears that students from China, like herself, might be looked at differently because of the virus. Although she has not experienced any kind of racism at NAU, Zhang wants people to know that COVID-19 is a global issue, not just a Chinese or Eastern Asian issue.

The media has had a very large influence on what the face of the virus looks like. Online articles have been using Asian people as their cover image on stories pertaining to the virus, which leads people to believe that they are to blame for the outbreak.

A New York Post article used a photo of a seemingly random picture of an Asian man with a mask when the first New York case was discovered. This image was called out by New York Sen. Alessandra Biaggi for targeting Eastern Asians and perpetuating the stigma. Biaggi replied to the tweet and claimed the source was lying about the location of the photo to purposely use an Eastern Asian man. The headline stated the first case of the virus was found in Manhattan, alongside an image used of an Eastern Asian man. This is true, however, the photo illustrated the man in front of a Duane Reade pharmacy on Main Street, which can be Googled to find the location of the pharmacy being in Flushing, Queens. This proved that Biaggi’s claim was true and the New York Post lied about the location to further the narrative.

For many, it can be hard to see racism in the media if it is not directly affecting certain people, but it is out there and it needs to stop.

This xenophobic behavior is giving people reason to believe that people of Asian descent are more likely to spread the virus than any other group of people. We need to help combat this racism and promote the idea that Asian people aren’t the reason for how the virus spreads.

This is blatant racism that’s hurting innocent lives and if people idly stand by watching this behavior, then they themselves are helping to spread ignorance.