Opinion – viral Discrimination: Avoiding coronavirus is no excuse for xenophobia
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects the writer’s personal opinions and experiences.
This year the new strand of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has made international headlines. The death toll increases daily but so does the increasing xenophobia towards Chinese people.
As a college student, far away from both home and my parent’s protection, I quickly panicked when I first heard of the coronavirus. Would it make it to Lynchburg? Would I be infected too?
My goal was simple: stay away from Asians at all costs. Little did I know how racist and xenophobic my thoughts sounded until I laughed at a “meme” I saw on social media picking at Asians, without any remorse or empathy towards their plight.
Until that moment, it hadn’t really occurred to me that while I was trying to stay away from a certain people group, they too were trying to stay away from the virus that was threatening to take their lives and the lives of those they loved.
Empathy is key during times like these, specifically in Christian circles, where others are not only individuals but our brothers and sisters in the faith.
In a world dictated mostly by hostility and pride, I realized that as a Christian, I had to be careful not to fall into ungodly behavior while justifying it as precaution against this virus.
One of the health reporters for Philadelphia Inquirer, Bethany Ao, has received a lot of street harassment because of her Asian appearance ever since the virus appeared. An image of a young Asian man in Spain holding up a sign that read “#IamNotAVirus” went viral due to coronavirus-based discrimination. Likewise, a man was accused of possibly having the virus by his Uber driver in Seattle simply because he looked Asian, although he had been born in the U.S.
Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser seems to have the same concern, as he brought up a couple of Asian students during Convocation last week and spoke on the importance of standing by them during this hard time.
By calling out xenophobic behavior, I don’t mean we should not be cautious. The truth of the matter is, this is a virus that should not be taken lightly. We have to work with what we know, which is that it started in China and therefore explains the precautions different governments are taking in regard to this.
What should not be tolerated though, is the mistreatment of those of Asian descent or appearance, without any knowledge of their health, travel history or ethnicity. The snarky comments, inappropriate social media posts and racists jokes are disgusting.
In a couple weeks, I will be traveling to meet up with my family in Florida. Although I will not be traveling internationally, my father suggested I wear a mask at the airport. Is this xenophobic? Not at all. This is precaution against possible sickness, not just the coronavirus.
Xenophobic behavior would imply racist behavior on my behalf, such as refusing to sit next to a passenger simply because they’re Asian, even if they are not sick or have never been to China.
I don’t want this call against racism and xenophobia to seem as if we’re supposed to ignore the problem. Coronavirus, as was Ebola and many other dangerous viruses before that, is serious. Crushing another individual’s dignity simply because they are from the country or region where this virus came from is unacceptable.
If we continue to allow hatred and xenophobic behavior to fuel us as human beings, we will become more sick and deadly as a society than any virus could ever make us.
Elias is a feature writer. Keep up with her work on Twitter.