Anti-Asianness in the era of COVID-19

Is racism a symptom of pandemics?

by Zafirah Mohamed Zein

COVID-19 recognises neither borders nor colour. Yet Asians have been ridiculed, shunned, and attacked as the deadly virus continues to incite fear and upend lives worldwide. In the United States, incidents of anti-Asian harassment surged after President Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”. The World Health Organisation warned against using this term, to avoid stigmatising a particular race or ethnicity.

But this is not the first time a pandemic has caused racism against Asian Americans and other minorities to rear its ugly head. Think about SARS, Ebola, the bubonic plague—when deadly diseases spread, an epidemic of hate towards marginalised groups usually follows in its trail. Why?

Depicting the East as the exotic Other
Western hegemony: Asia simplified

Freshly slaughtered animals for sale at a supermarket in Guangzhou, July 2019. Image: Architect Chin/Shutterstock

Associating immigrants with disease
COVID-19 has laid bare our ideas of race
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