RWAC Blog: Growing Xenophobia as a Result of Coronavirus

Viruses can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, in remarks after an international meeting of 400 scientists and other experts convened in Geneva to look for solutions to the crisis.

Growing Xenophobia as a Result of Coronavirus

by Mana Soroush

 

With constant anxiety-inducing updates on the Coronavirus outbreak displayed in the media, many have been undergoing stress, anxiety, and fear of what is to come. According to CNN, the total death toll around the world has come to at least 813 so far. China made the decision to quarantine Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, not allowing citizens to move in or out due to the potential of the virus spreading. 

With the fear of an increasing spread of the virus comes the stigmatization of Chinese people and the Asian community as a whole. Increased xenophobia has come into this situation, similar to that of the “Spanish Flu” era, in which foreigners were associated with the epidemic that did not originate in Spain. As stated by the American Public Health Association, scholars argue that promoting an association between foreigners and a particular epidemic can be a rhetorical strategy for either promoting fear or, alternatively, imparting a sense of safety to the public.

Concern arose among many after seeing a student organization at UC Berkeley post a list of “common reactions” to an epidemic, with one “normal” reaction listed as “Xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings.” This post, stating that xenophobia is a normal reaction to the epidemic, was also embedded onto UC Berkeley’s official health services website. 

While it is clear that xenophobia and racism are recurring issues, they become much more emphasized during times of crisis, such as a health outbreak. It is important to understand that xenophobia does not simply form as the result of a public crisis, but it is rather just brought to light. 

What can we do to stop this xenophobia from spreading? Learn not to associate health epidemics with a specific ethnic group. Steer away from blaming others for something beyond their control. Understand that fear tactics can be used and spread by those who have no easy way to explain what is going on. Lastly, we can be patient with and educate others in order to end xenophobia at its roots. 

 

References

Aguilera, J. (2020, February 3). Xenophobia ‘Is A Pre-Existing Condition.’ How Harmful

Stereotypes and Racism are Spreading Around the Coronavirus. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from https://time.com/5775716/xenophobia-racism-stereotypes-coronavirus/

Dewan, A., Alfonso, F., & Vera, A. (2020, February 9). Coronavirus outbreak: Death toll

surpasses total from SARS outbreak. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/asia/live-news/coronavirus-outbreak-02-09-20-intl-hnk/index.html.

Trevor Hoppe, ““Spanish Flu”: When Infectious Disease Names Blur Origins and Stigmatize 

Those Infected”, American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 11 (November 1, 2018): pp. 1462-1464.

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