In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is disheartening to see xenophobia control the response to and treatment of others.
However, it is more unfortunate that there has been an unhealthy culture of racializing pandemics. This is done so by attaching them to certain people or locations. With social media and influential people adding fuel to the fire by sharing racist memes and labeling the virus with a certain name, it normalizes society’s tendency to find a scapegoat, such as Asian Americans, during this pandemic.
Among these influential people is President Donald Trump, who had initially referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” and the “Wuhan Virus.” With administration officials and Republicans in Congress also partaking in this, it has become the nomenclature of the White House –to attach the virus to people of Asian descent or Wuhan, a city in China. This poses extreme danger, as Asian Americans have reportedly faced emotional and physical abuse from harassment and racial discrimination with the spread of misinformation and xenophobia.
For instance, in New York, there have been reports of physical attacks, following verbal abuse, against the Asian American Pacific Islander community. There have been xenophobic-related cases nationwide, such as one regarding a 16-year-old in California, that ended with hospitalization. Additionally, Asian American businesses have suffered greatly.
In the time of crisis, it is essential to be wary as to how one responds to these crises. It is never ideal to call the disease by their country of origin because, as a result of doing so, racism inevitably spreads along with the disease.
In fact, the World Health Organization even issued a guidance for naming novel human infectious diseases, recommending that geographic locations, people’s names, or cultural or population references are not included. This guidance was issued in 2015 when the organization recognized the danger of misinformation and stigma. It is disappointing to see that even national leaders refused to initially follow this guidance, which as a result, fueled xenophobia.
Racializing pandemics, according to the Centers of Disease Control, creates fear and anger towards the named group, undoubtedly subjecting them to racial discrimination and mistreatment. Therefore, as Asian Americans are being associated with COVID-19, there is an emerging spike of hate crimes against people of Asian descent.
In light of this situation, there have been communities recognizing the rise of xenophobic cases taking action to combat or alleviate the outcomes. For instance, New York had launched a hate crimes hotline for residents. However, there is more to do to prevent xenophobia from spiraling out of control.
Lawmakers must refrain from using non-official names to name a pathogen of a pandemic, share accurate information regarding the virus, and pass solutions denouncing racism and misinformation. People must learn to discontinue the dangerous culture of identifying a scapegoat in a time of crisis and do thorough research before contributing to the spread of misinformation.