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The Corona Controversy

Katie Campbell explores the corona virus’ role in casual racism.

Winter is an infamous time for coughs and colds and flus. It happens every year. Despite being inconvenient and annoying, it’s normal. However, this year people seem to have forgotten this fact. When someone tells you they have a cold, or even if someone as much as coughs, everyone’s first thoughts are the same: Coronavirus.

It’s not your fault, you can’t go anywhere without hearing about it. It’s all over the news: telling us how many people have it, how many people have died, how many people have it in the UK, how likely you are to get it, what to do if you have any symptoms, and so on. We’re told that the virus is coming from Wuhan, China, and if someone has been there they could be at risk. This is causing wide-scale panic across the country. And what do we do to deal with this panic? We make memes about it.

Of course we do. This generation is famous for making light of a bad situation by making jokes, and honestly, for the most part, I love that. However, what this means is that we are getting the wide-scale panic of the Coronavirus epidemic side-by-side with memes on your Facebook feed.

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I am not here to complain about memes, that is not the problem here, although many of these memes are targeted towards one group. I’ve seen examples such as “when you’re at the Chinese restaurant and you hear them cough”, or “when a Chinese person sneezes near you”. However, like I said, the problem here is not solely memes, but rather that this panic around the virus had led to casual racism in everyday life. Because, as we all know, it doesn’t end with jokes. People start avoiding Chinese students, or East Asian students who are assumed to be Chinese (which is a whole other problem in and of itself). If you look on St Fessdrews, you’ll see students talking about how they have been treated differently because they look Chinese, one such example being a couple of Korean students standing outside the Union at night when some people walked past them whispering “Corona”.

I’m hearing these things first-hand. I was walking down the street when I overheard someone say to their friend “hold your breath” because a group of Chinese students were walking towards them. Back home in Belfast, my grandfather was in hospital and upon seeing an Asian doctor, covered his mouth exaggeratedly. This last example is the most ridiculous to me, because he was in a hospital, a place where you are very likely to catch all kinds of illnesses from every patient, yet the panic arose from one Asian person walking by. If I’m hearing it everywhere, just imagine how much you would hear it if you were Chinese, and what it would feel like being on the receiving end of it.

The problem is not the making light of this panic, it’s the targeting of fear at one group of people, and this is happening worldwide. In France the hashtag “je ne suis pas un virus” (I am not a virus) has started as a response to the discriminatory and racist behaviour Asians have been facing due to the Coronavirus there.

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I’ve found this particularly difficult to write as I am finding more and more examples of these every day. Just Wednesday I saw a Daily Mail article which said, “Coronavirus could kill 45MILLION people and infect SIXTY PER CENT of the global population if it cannot be controlled”. The Daily Mail are unsurprisingly having a field day with this. They continue to use fear-mongering to get people’s attention, but in reality, the panic is already there.

Do we really need to be so afraid? It’s hard to say how dangerous the virus is yet, but what we do know is that if you haven’t been to China or are close to someone who has, you’re fine. Sentences like, “that’s why I’m avoiding Chinese people, to be safe!” are rife, despite the fact that anyone who considers themselves at risk would, at this point, take themselves to hospital and away from the general population. It is not, and never has been, ok to avoid or make fun of someone based on their race. That is, funnily enough, racism.  We are putting every Chinese person, every East Asian person, in a box marked Corona. And that needs to stop.

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