I am studying abroad in London, and I had the chance to take a weekend trip to Paris. The only issue was that I needed to find a place to stay. I came across a nice apartment on Airbnb that was close to the Eiffel Tower, so I asked the host if I could check in late since my plane would not land until nearly midnight. The response I got was shocking. “Hello John,” she replied, “an American I am okay with, but not a Chinese person with their viruses.” I was confused and surprised that she would single out Chinese people until I realized that she was referring to the coronavirus outbreak.
The coronavirus has been said to be responsible for several outbreaks throughout the world, according to Live Science. This includes the severe acute respiratory syndrome pandemic of 2002–03 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in South Korea in 2015. Most recently, there has been an outbreak of coronavirus throughout China. Some coronaviruses have caused epidemics and others have caused mild to moderate respiratory infections, like the common cold. No matter the effect of a viral outbreak, it does not permit people to be xenophobic and racist. Many, like the Airbnb host who took the time to single out Chinese people, feel as though in times of outbreak and disease they are justified in being xenophobic.
Those who are xenophobic generalize a whole country by assuming that everyone in said country is potentially ill. This mindset disregards the individuals that reside there and could even deter them from getting help. Sympathy is vital because people’s lives are in jeopardy. Also, just because there is a viral outbreak does not mean that everyone in that country has come in contact with the virus. This way of thinking further perpetuates the dichotomy of “othering” those that live differently than what an individual is used to. People fear what they do not understand.
This is the same mindset that leads to stereotypes and implicit biases. Negative portrayals of different ethnic groups are perpetuated in times of public health emergencies. I have seen memes of people mocking Chinese people saying, “That’s why you shouldn’t eat bats,” and a meme of Disney princesses with masks and Mulan pictured being the only one without a mask as the header reads, “Sorry Mulan but we never know.” Not only are these memes insensitive but they further ostracize those in China. This state of mind is so toxic because it allows for xenophobia to take center stage instead of the well–being of those affected being the main priority.
The same thing happened when there was the Ebola outbreak. The Verge reported in 2014 that people were turned away from restaurants and jobs because they appeared to be from West Africa even though they had never come into contact with the Ebola outbreak.
These xenophobic ideologies allow for people to feel disassociated with those affected. Instead of people saying, “I’m glad I’m not in China,” they should be saying, “How can I help those affected?” This is everyone’s issue, not just China’s. Times like these are when unity is of the utmost importance because it just takes one person to bring coronavirus to your doorstep. Then it will not be a “them” problem but an “us” problem.