Friday, January 31, 2020

A social virus: anti-immigrant and anti-Chinese sentiment spreading with coronavirus [UPDATED]

Several media outlets have started to cover the social cost of the epidemic: anti-immigrant and anti-Chinese sentiment is spreading along with the coronavirus. This is not a new phenomenon: Irish immigrants were blamed for cholera, African immigrants for ebola, and Chinese immigrants for SARS. The latest wave of anti-immigrant sentiment converges with rising tensions against China due to economic competition and racial resentments in general. Trump issued a travel ban against China on the basis of a public health emergency. There are mounting visa denials for entry to the US (and beyond the US, bars on entry to Singapore, Mongolia and Russia), insensitive media coverage, social rejection and distate for unfamiliar types of Chinese food. The US is discouraging travel to China. Many universities have announced that travel to China will not be approved; some are recalling American students from Chinese universities; and others schools have expressed suspicion about Chinese international students, e.g. ASU started an online petition to cancel classes to avoid close proximity to Chinese students.

On a personal note, the coronavirus has been stirring up complicated racial dynamics in my own community. Though there is not a single confirmed case in Colorado, several Chinese schools cancelled their lunar new year's celebrations. The WeChat for my local Chinese school has been buzzing with calls for these closures and some have been sharing concerns in city hall meetings, expressing their fear of contagion and their fear of scapegoating if the virus spreads due to a large gathering of Chinese people. Apropos of this mostly first-generation mainland Chinese community's recent experiences, there seems to be a mistrust of data, government actions, and one another folded in as well. All in all, figuring out a community response been divisive. In my mind, it is the product "misguided precautions" that resemble the course of racial profiling in law enforcement that is allegedly based on statistics and science about the correlation of racially-defined groups and risky or undesirable behaviors; it worries me. In others' minds, it is a matter of public safety and it is necessary.


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