The coronavirus has now been declared a global crisis by the World Health Organisation and, quite naturally, the world is anxious about the possibility of the disease spreading. However, what is lost in the panic is the experience of blame entrenched in racism that East Asians in the UK and those across the globe are enduring.
East Asians are documenting their experiences of others visibly avoiding them or making derogatory comments about Chinese communities.
Just as the United Kingdom consists of four different countries and America is vast, with diverse states, China is also diverse. Many East Asians facing renewed hostility will be dual heritage, second or third generation immigrants, or from another part of China.
Racism breeds fast and is why so often activists call for the deplatforming of hate figures, as it is known to work. Just last year, shamed right wing political figure Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – also known as Tommy Robinson – epically failed in his bid to become an MEP despite numerous boasts about how he was sure to win that seat.
Yaxley-Lennon fumed that the establishment had “arranged and organised” for his failure, with YouTube and Twitter banning him from their sites that led to his ultimate defeat, as opposed to the people of Manchester seeing through his divisive rhetoric.
Racism breeds fast and is why so often activists call for the deplatforming of hate figures, as it is known to work
Good Morning Britain Presenter and controversial figure Piers Morgan mocked the Chinese (Mandarin) language on air last week, reverting to offensive rhetoric East Asians have heard for decades.
The Lunar New Year, a sacred time in Chinese culture, was disrespected by Evening Standard editor and ex Conservative MP George Osborne by tastelessly adding a face mask over the mouth and nose of a rat, the animal of the new year according to the Chinese calendar. This again is in reference to the coronavirus and tinged with mockery.
Such acts normalise the ridicule and suspicion around East Asians and Chinese communities.
French-Chinese citizens have took to Twitter, using the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I’m not a virus) to shed light on the surge of disrespect. Local newspaper Le Courrier Picard with its headline of “Alerte jaune” (yellow alert) quite rightly caused outrage by the Chinese community and allies. The paper has since apologised.
Boarding schools in the UK have warned its students and families about the possibility of xenophobia as a result of the outbreak. The Boarding School Association stressed that this was a preventive move to protect its Chinese students and others.
Current advice from Health Secretary Matt Hancock is that anyone arriving in the UK from the Wuhan area should “self-isolate”, regardless of whether they have symptoms of the coronavirus or not, for at least 14 days.
Confirmed cases are rising but this is most likely because China is rapidly being able to identify affected individuals. China has all but put Wuhan into quarantine, with strict travel restrictions, two hospitals being built at lightening speed and banning mass gatherings at tourism sites. Sale of wildlife is temporarily banned.
The UK’s chief medical officers confirmed the risk level was moderate and that the Government should have a plan for all eventualities. They stressed that health services were well equipped to protect the UK public and provide care. Individuals flying back to the UK from Wuhan will undergo a 14-day quarantine process.
The international community has a duty to be aware of false information and to stand with East Asian communities, as opposed to mislabelling and mistreating them.