Xenophobia and anti-Asian racism in the wake of the Coronavirus
February 1, 2020 12:05 AM   Subscribe

'I am not a virus': France's Asian community pushes back over xenophobia In a southeastern Paris district known as the go-to place for Asian cuisine, business is down at Pascal Corlier’s Vietnamese restaurant, a side-effect of China’s coronavirus health scare that has sparked panic and a rise in xenophobic incidents. Some nervous customers have begun to ask waiting staff if they are Chinese, according to Corlier, whose Vietnamese father-in-law runs the kitchen and serves up traditional dishes like pho soup. Others are simply staying away. “There’s a sort of unfounded psychosis setting in around the Asian community and Asian food,” the restaurateur said, adding that his revenues were down 40% for the first few weeks of 2020 compared to the same period a year ago.

In the UK:
The coronavirus panic is turning the UK into a hostile environment for east Asians

The atmosphere on my morning commute is tense. As panic over the coronavirus deepens and dominates the headlines, as an east Asian I can’t help but feel more and more uncomfortable. On the bus to work last week, as I sat down, the man next to me immediately scrambled to gather his stuff and stood up to avoid sitting next to me.
...
In light of current events, we east Asians in the UK are on high alert, paying close attention to how people interact with us. It is not their concern about health that is problematic, but the stereotyping of all east Asians as a coronavirus risk. At times such as this, even a simple bus trip can feel like a hostile environment.
...
Perhaps it did not occur to some of these people, so happy to talk loudly in front of me, that I was also concerned about the virus ? or that I, as a British citizen, was no more likely than them to be carrying the virus. They grouped all east Asian people together, without factoring in that perhaps we were British or, if not, we were from unaffected areas of China, or even came from other countries in the Chinese diaspora. We were all the same to them.


In Australia:
Coronavirus has sparked racist attacks on Asians in Australia - including me

I was standing in a supermarket aisle and moving my shopping trolley to make room for a middle-aged woman to pass when I overheard it: "Asians … stay home …stop spreading the virus."

I stopped and looked at the woman. Her face was serious, her eyes stared blankly at the floor in front of her as if she was just thinking aloud....

I didn't confront her. Her voice lowered when she knew I was watching her, but the muttering continued as she walked away.
posted by Umami Dearest (70 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
worldwide, SARS caused less deaths than being struck by lightning in the same year. coronavirus is apparently more contagious but substantially less deadly.
all I can discern from this is that statistics are not very emotionally compelling.
posted by solarion at 12:19 AM on February 1 [33 favorites]


My dear friend's parents are hiding out right now. They can't return to China, they can't go into Los Angeles, they are that afraid of both catching the virus and having people assume they carry it, ESPECIALLY if they wear masks. Fuck this timeline.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 12:20 AM on February 1 [14 favorites]


In Denmark, Jyllandsposten has started a new cartoon crisis, as they do.
(Jyllandsposten is actually Morgenavisen Jyllandsposten, which in Danish is fun to alliterate into "the morning fascist Jutland pest", they have always been racist and authoritarian)
posted by mumimor at 12:52 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


It’s almost as if the current circumstances have nothing to do with the racism. As if the racism was... there all along, somehow.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:02 AM on February 1 [59 favorites]


I have a friend in London whose family is originally from Malaysia. People on the streets and in the Tube are avoiding her. Her aunt got fed up with this nonsense and is walking around now with a large piece of paper clipped to her chest. It says

"I am Malaysian. I have never been to China for the last 12 years! Please do not come close to me if you are not well! Thank you."
posted by vacapinta at 2:40 AM on February 1 [49 favorites]


For fuck’s sake, people. You know who is a disease carrier? Every young child. If you don’t quarantine your children in the “sick shed” at every sniffle, stop harassing random Asian people. If you do quarantine your children in a shed, you have other problems.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:15 AM on February 1 [46 favorites]


My wife works in a pharmacy. If we're going to get it, that's almost certainly where it's going to come from, not some random person with a genetic heritage roughly from somewhere between India and the Pacific. And from what I'm seeing, there's a good chance we won't even be particularly sick.

However, if the pharmacy gets a call that someone who tested positive was there, it's game over for me going to work for a couple of weeks. It's that disruption I'm trying to prepare for. Fortunately, I have a full time load of (really enjoyable) work that can be done from home. It would seriously screw up plans for two of our customers that are moving in the next couple of month, though.
posted by krisjohn at 3:17 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Same hysteria here in Italy, with SARS-era scaremongering whatsapp yellow-peril messages being repurposed verbatim. (The complicity this enables - the social barrier to calling out racism in groupchat settings - is infuriating.)
posted by progosk at 3:35 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


While I was born and have lived my whole life in the UK, my parents are from Hong Kong, so I'm on high alert. I already saw a Reddit post in r/Edinburgh ranting that hotels should bar all tourists from China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan – without throwing in, say, France and the US and Canada and all the other countries with confirmed cases. Thankfully the post was downvoted into oblivion, but it's a real sentiment.

I haven't noticed any strange looks on the streets or in bars, which is wonderful. But I have seen so many "jokes" online about bullying Asian people wearing masks – e.g. deliberately coughing at them – that show a deeply ingrained racist attitude that isn't being pushed back against with anywhere near enough force. It really wouldn't take much for that attitude to do genuine harm.
posted by adrianhon at 4:39 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


It takes so very little to turn people against each other. Definitely a defect in the firmware, one with far too many exploits. Exploits that are used to keep the rich in power and the rest of us from cooperating effectively.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:16 AM on February 1 [16 favorites]


It's like the media saw the frenzy they could drive people into at the turn of the decade with bushfires and Iran and thought "Yeah that's it. Let's keep that going for the rest of the year".
posted by um at 5:24 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I have a friend in London whose family is originally from Malaysia. People on the streets and in the Tube are avoiding her. Her aunt got fed up with this nonsense and is walking around now with a large piece of paper clipped to her chest. It says

"I am Malaysian. I have never been to China for the last 12 years! Please do not come close to me if you are not well! Thank you."


It sounds like this anecdote is meant to be amusing but it's pretty shameful when you choose not to stand against racism and xenophobia but instead try to carve an exception for yourself.

Hate and ignorance doesn't really make those distinctions.

One of the most famous cases in Asian American civil rights history involves two white American autoworkers beating to death a Chinese American man because they were angry about the ascendance of the Japanese auto industry.
posted by Borborygmus at 5:52 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


This is happening in "multicultural, tolerant" Toronto as well. There's a lot of anti-PRC sentiment here already and this seems to let people express it in ways that just make it seem like they're only concerned about their health. My question to all this is if there were a similar outbreak in Austria would we be doing this to all ethnically European people?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:54 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


It sounds like this anecdote is meant to be amusing

I didn't mean it to be anything other than a direct statement of what my friend's family member has done. Presumably because she is an older lady, terrified and tired of being harassed and also pointing out people's gross ignorance. This is far from amusing.
Now we are blaming one of the victims?
posted by vacapinta at 6:00 AM on February 1 [70 favorites]


Also in Canada:
Ontario school board concerned parents' petition prompted by coronavirus fears could stoke racism

But it sounds like Canadian officials and media are pushing back hard against this.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:03 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


It sounds like this anecdote is meant to be amusing but it's pretty shameful when you choose not to stand against racism and xenophobia but instead try to carve an exception for yourself.

Yes, let's put the onus on Asian people suffering racist attacks to prevent and stand up against racist attacks against other Asians.

How about we stop giving white people a pass.
posted by Karaage at 6:23 AM on February 1 [41 favorites]


But by stating that she's not Chinese the aunt is endorsing the idea that it would be ok to harass a Chinese person. This is pushing someone else down to keep yourself up. It is a common defence to racist situations but it's a defence that reinforces the racism.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:35 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Look, if a person is suffering racist attacks I would recommend that we actually focus on the fact that 1) they have suffered racist attacks and 2) surrounding witnesses and people while they suffered the racist attacks presumably did not make them feel safe enough that they would need to make a sign out of panic.

Leaping to shame and attack the victim about not being an ally to other victims while there's an entire society of people also doing jack shit to stop it is an odd use of your outrage. Its a total derail from the point that racist attacks shouldn't be happening in the first place and gives people of non Asian decent a pass to not actually do anything.
posted by Karaage at 6:42 AM on February 1 [26 favorites]


[Friends, please, please drop this bizarre derail.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:51 AM on February 1 [11 favorites]


this bizarre derail

It's not really a derail. Part of how "misdirected racism" works is that the victim of the racism wants to stop their harassment, and the most intuitive way to stop it is to say "I'm not from the group that you want to be harrassing", which implies (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that harrassing the intended group is acceptable. I fully understand the desire to make a sign like that, but if I had someone that I knew and loved who was wearing a sign like that, I'd talk with them about how to reword it, because it does contribute to xenophobia and anti-Asian racism, even if it also helps the sign-wearer from personally experiencing harrassment. (Delete this comment if you have to.)
posted by 23skidoo at 6:58 AM on February 1 [18 favorites]


[Totally fair to call out misdirected racism, as people have done. Just a nudge not to allow the whole discussion to center on that one person for her response to racism she's experiencing, as if the responses of people to racism they're experiencing is the central problem, when the articles are about the broader xenophobia and racism that people are being subjected to by largely-white populations.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:32 AM on February 1 [18 favorites]


if there were a similar outbreak in Austria would we be doing this to all ethnically European people?

The 1918 influenza might serve as a an example of a non-racially-predicated pandemic (there was, and still is, no information as to its origin point, so there was no chance for any single narrative’s gain); but in this time of biological disruption heightened by the climate emergency, there is a chance we might yet see outbreaks of exotic, life-threatening epidemics originating in white contexts.

(Come to think of it: perhaps measles-by-unvaccination is an, albeit non-exotic, kind of half-harbinger of this?)
posted by progosk at 7:36 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


A Philadelphia charter school sent a whole group of Chinese exchange students home after one tested negative for the virus due to "anxiety among parents and students" and because other schools were cancelling athletic competitions with them.
posted by sepviva at 7:38 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Some nervous customers have begun to ask waiting staff if they are Chinese

This is in the same France that doesn't collect racial data in its census because all French citizens are equally French. Funny how that mindset lasts for exactly as long as its convenient for the majority and the second it isn't you're back to being Chinese, or Arab, or African, or whatever other people they want to make less than.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:39 AM on February 1 [20 favorites]


I work at a university with a pretty big (albeit shrinking) population of international students from China, and by complete coincidence, the end of our winter break coincided with the coronavirus outbreak. Many students go home to China for winter break, and it has occurred to me that I've had more contact with people who have recently arrived from China than your average bear. (I meet with students one-on-one, and for various reasons, international students are more likely to come see me this time of year.) I'm not worried about myself: this doesn't sound like a particularly deadly disease, and I don't think I'm at unusually high risk for complications. I am a tiny bit worried about my potential to be a disease vector, especially since I'm planning to be at some crowded, all-ages events in the next couple of days. I'm going to be super, super careful to cover any coughs and wash my hands compulsively.

Interestingly, my Chinese students are pretty anxious that they're going to be targeted, and my sense is that some of their parents are freaking out about it. But I haven't seen much evidence that domestic students (or other people) are paying any attention to the coronavirus at all. I think this is a case where general American ignorance and insularity may be playing a positive role. And I'm hoping that by the time anyone starts paying attention, the incubation period will be over, and we will at least be able to explain that there's no rational reason to be concerned that students from China are going to spread the disease. But I'm very aware that this stuff isn't rational, and it could be an easy excuse to act on racism that already exists.

Anyway, solidarity with anyone who is experiencing (or worried about experiencing) racism. It sucks, and I'm sorry.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:50 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I was a last-minute tag along last weekend on my wife's business trip to Orlando, FL, (her sister lives there too, so we had a place to crash). Wife and I went to Disney to see Star Wars World. We saw plenty of people in the airports, and several on the planes wearing masks. But I don't think I saw a single person at the very-crowded Disney World in a mask. And there were plenty of tourist groups there from Asia. There were no warnings about the virus, and no one seemed to be concerned in any way at the park.

Just a data point/observation from Mouse HQ.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:51 AM on February 1


A Tweet I read recently (don't know how to link those, and I don't use Twitter):


Elliott Kay
@ElliottKaybooks

PSA for everyone freaking out about this coronavirus:

A country that YouTubed itself into a 21st Century measles outbreak does not get to talk any shit about anyone else's health practices.

5:56 PM - Jan 29, 2020

posted by SoberHighland at 8:55 AM on February 1 [86 favorites]


The 1918 flu was called "Spanish Flu", so it got... well, not racialized, exactly. But the flu wasn't Spanish at all, it was just that Spain- being neutral in WWI- didn't censor the news like Britain and Germany did.

Nobody actually knew where it came from, but that didn't stop it being labeled with a nationality.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:57 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


If you do quarantine your children in a shed, you have other problems.

Yes. Insufficient sheds.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:11 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I’m living in London, look East Asian and I actually have a bad cold (which I got from my daughter, kids are freaking germ factories). FML. I haven’t really been going out much because of it, but I’ve been feeling really self conscious when I had to. I haven’t yet noticed any direct racism but I hate that I feel on guard for it.
posted by like_neon at 9:21 AM on February 1 [9 favorites]


The 1918 flu was called "Spanish Flu", so it got... well, not racialized, exactly. But the flu wasn't Spanish at all, it was just that Spain- being neutral in WWI- didn't censor the news like Britain and Germany did.

Nobody actually knew where it came from, but that didn't stop it being labeled with a nationality.


Even when I was a kid in the sixties and seventies, the "Spaniards" where definitely other, along with Italians and Irish. My best friends were Spanish and Italian, so I saw it up close.
posted by mumimor at 9:27 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


The 1918 flu was called "Spanish Flu"

Yes, the "origin" labelling did happen, and arguably that might be counted as enough to test the "what reaction if the pandemic were European?" scenario - but so far I haven't found mention of any sort of anti-iberian (or anti-European) reaction, at the time... though to be honest, I'm not sure what shape it would even take.
posted by progosk at 9:28 AM on February 1


A Tweet I read recently (don't know how to link those, and I don't use Twitter):
Elliott Kay @ElliottKaybooks


Hi, this is me.

Would like to report that going viral is deeply weird.

I've had a Bloomberg opinion columnist retweet me complaining that I'm saying the Chinese government is beyond criticism. (While he responded to several replies, guess whose reply he ignored.) I've caught a lot of tankie and Stalinist labels. I've seen an article go off with "some people have to make everything about us," putting my tweet in sequence with the horrific shit that came out of Wilbur Ross about how this disease is good for American jobs. Naturally, several people have said I'm only tweeting to promote my shitty book--which is super insulting, because I'm trying to promote three shitty book series, thank you. (Also, my twitter page is apparently overflowing with estrogen. Kinda proud about that.)

And here's the real takeaway: the response to what I said was overwhelmingly positive and I'm grateful for that. However, the vast majority of people who want to argue or "well, actually" me? While hardly 100% homogenous, it is overwhelmingly exactly the demographic you'd expect.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:28 AM on February 1 [89 favorites]


I should add: as ugly as some of the responses to my tweet have been, I can report that yes, life is way easier when you present as a cis pale male. One of the early replies on my tweet which also caught a bunch of attention ('cause it was hilarious) came from a woman I'm friends with. Like me, she got a lot of agreement, but the disagreement has been way uglier and more direct.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:34 AM on February 1 [15 favorites]


Live from Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a Chinese banquet hall in Scarborough (greater Toronto) this morning:

"There is no place in our country for discrimination driven by fear or misinformation. This is not something Canadians will ever stand for."
posted by heatherlogan at 9:46 AM on February 1 [18 favorites]


God, everything is just so disheartening these days. Racist morons truly do run everything, don't they? An idiot tide is drowning the world.
posted by aramaic at 9:47 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Hi scaryblackdeath: I found your Tweet on the Balloon Juice blog, FYI.
posted by SoberHighland at 9:48 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Nobody actually knew where it came from

Pretty strong evidence for Kansas, actually.
posted by basalganglia at 10:05 AM on February 1 [12 favorites]


Anyone else see any really great twitter zingers?
posted by Wood at 10:16 AM on February 1


Pretty strong evidence for Kansas, actually.

Oh, very interesting, that, thx. (Hogs & birds...)
posted by progosk at 10:19 AM on February 1


My husband had to fly a bunch last week and wanted to wear a mask because we have a small baby and he didn't want to catch anything. But nobody else on his planes was in one and fuck if he was going to be the only Chinese guy on a plane in a mask. Talk about hassles nobody needs.

Our across the street neighbors are originally from WuHan, have relatives visiting who showed up late last year, and we've caught a bad cold from them right after Christmas. I won't deny it crossed our minds to wonder as information about the virus came out, but they also have a three year old in daycare and mentioned at the time that she'd brought the cold home with her. And at the time there was no reason to suspect otherwise, of course! Ultimately we're all over it weeks ago now, so I guess if it was coronavirus we got a mild case...*shrugs*
posted by potrzebie at 10:33 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


What concerns me most about this outbreak and the travel issues isn't the disease itself. It's the inevitably abusive behavior of CBP and ICE now that they have another pretext to be awful. I'm not one to say, "Cancel your trip to China because you'll get sick," but I think it's worth considering whether you'll be allowed back into the country by border services with a demonstrated track record of abuse of power.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:39 AM on February 1 [19 favorites]


I had put up the first FPP about Wuhan coronavirus (and people's fear and anger at the municipal/provincial/national government for downplaying the virus for the first 3 weeks.) It is shitty that the human tendency toward "what about me, how can I not get this new virus" instead of "what about the people in Hubei?" has so much anti-Asian xenophobia to shape self-centeredness into racist behavior.

I'm Korean American, and have been the intermittent target of xenophobic comments and anti-Asian sentiments over the decades, but I am still surprised at the swiftness and intensity of people's xenophobia. Also I now live in the San Gabriel Valley* (aka the first wave Asian suburbs of LA) and Asians are the majority of residents in my city. It's been years since I have lived the terrible daily vulnerability of being a conspicuous minority.

*This past week we went out to eat dimsum, and Sichuan food, and pho. The Sichuan restaurant had a guy checking people's temperatures at the door, but when they heard us speaking English, they just waved us inside.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:45 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Also in Canada: Terri Chu recounts how her family and friends were impacted by the SARS outbreak in 2003 and are now braced for a new wave of racism with the coronavirus.

Ontario mother concerned about racist backlash from coronavirus [CBC Video - 6 minutes]

As fears of coronavirus outbreak grow, Chinese-Canadian mother and activist worries about racist backlash

Now because she spoke publicly Chu is having to endure racism on Twitter and being disparaged as "some random mother" unqualified to speak. Chu would prefer to be presented as a professional (PhD student in Science Communication) but the media has chosen to present her as a "mother and activist".
posted by Secret Sparrow at 11:57 AM on February 1 [10 favorites]


I am visibly Asian, and lived in Montreal at the time of the SARS outbreak. People on the subway would frequently move away from me when they saw me. I now live in Germany, and so far I haven’t been on public transit since the Coronavirus was declared an international emergency. However, starting Friday store shelves have been emptied of hand sanitizer. And this is a country that always reports in the news when subjects of stories (suspects, victims) are described as having an immigration background if they are not of white, Europen descent. I’m dreading the subway ride to work on Monday, to be honest.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 12:03 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Also in Canada: Dr. Nadia Alam, past President of the Ontario Medical Association, tweeted that her son and his friends had been subjected to racist coronavirus related harassment at school
"Today my son was cornered at school by kids who wanted to “test” him for #Coronavirus just because he is half-Chinese. They chased him. Scared him. And made him cry.

I was the same age when I was bullied for being Pakistani.

It’s 2020. I thought things had changed by now... 💔"

...

"Update: my son is okay. Confused but okay. A Chinese friend and his brother were also targeted.

This morning, we talked about what racism is.

I will talk to the principal. There is hope for education, perspective and compassion. Here’s to making a better world."
posted by Secret Sparrow at 12:04 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


I recommend reading basalganglia's Smithsonian link; I thought I had a sense of how bad the 1918 flu pandemic was, but I was standing in an inch of water and mistaking it for a tidal wave:
For instance, a Metropolitan Life Insurance Company study of people aged 25 to 45 found that 3.26 percent of all industrial workers and 6 percent of all coal miners died. Other studies found that for pregnant women, fatality rates ranged from 23 percent to 71 percent.
posted by jamjam at 12:30 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Zeyi Yang 杨泽毅 (Columbia Univ journalism grad, hometown Wuhan THAT WUHAN ➡️) tweeted

Okay this will be controversial:
yes, killing pets for rumors is absolutely wrong, stupid, and cruel. But if that’s enough for you to say “okay now I don’t care about these ppl anymore,” you never care about them in the first place. Save your hypocrisy.

And then as a quote retweet:
If you don’t know this yet: wuhan’s signature dish is sesame paste noodle. THERE’S NOT EVEN ANIMAL MEAT IN IT. Save your racism.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:35 PM on February 1 [11 favorites]


The 'true' origin of the 1918 'Spanish' Flu never became certain. Some US historians concluded that it started in a military camp in Kansas (where it was first observed in the US). Others have blamed Austria, East Asia. Spain was hard-hit by it ... that's how it got stuck with the (colloquial) name!

It seems that we look for a source we can blame to escape our fear. A cheap but dangerous mechanism.
posted by Twang at 1:54 PM on February 1


A recent poster on Nextdoor in my PNW neighborhood asked: Which nearby Chinese restaurants deliver? The first response was a middle-aged white lady, non-ironically (capitalization mine): "YOU'LL GET CORONAVIRUS!!!1!!" When somebody replied to her that this was ridiculous, she doubled down. Sigh.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:13 PM on February 1


Coronavirus-related racism is happening in New Zealand, too.
posted by rednikki at 4:00 PM on February 1


Here in NYC there has definitely been an uptick in folks of Asian descent wearing face masks on public transit. I am hoping it's about self-defense from germs, rather than from racist bullshit, but it is probably, at least in part, the latter.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:23 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I thought I had a sense of how bad the 1918 flu pandemic was, but I was standing in an inch of water and mistaking it for a tidal wave

I heard a documentary BBC podcast about the 1918 flu and it included excerpts of a journal kept by, I think, a soldier from New Zealand on a troop ship struck by the disease. It was very, very bad. It turned people blue and then they died. It didn't behave like flu was supposed to, and it killed the young as much as the old. The death rates (as you pointed out) were averages, but in some places it was much higher.

Coronavirus? Not so bad. The US is currently denying entry to anyone with recent travel to China and planning to quarantine any American citizens who do come back. The knock-on effects of the response to this thing- the racism, the fear, the economic paralysis- are very likely going to be bigger than the actual effects of the thing. I don't remember it being anything like this during the swinepocalypse, but maybe that's just because it was obviously impossible to quarantine our way out of that one.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:14 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Every report I've seen since this started counted deaths at barely 2% of reported infections and not rising. I'll start worrying if the number of deaths ever starts to catch up to the number infected.

In the meantime, here's a dark-humorous coronavirus meme: Makeshift Masks.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:21 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


BTW - there's a check-in thread on metatalk that's being pretty kind and Asia-centered for people in Coronavirus areas (I started it).
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:41 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


That makeshift masks site doesn't read so much as "dark humor" as "let's point and laugh at scared, underinformed/misinformed people doing the best they can with inadequate resources."

Also not super excited about the commenter fantasizing about a 90% reduction in the earth's human population, or the commenter whose primary objection to that scenario appears to be the smell of the resulting corpses. Three guesses what kind of people they expect to produce the corpses?
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:04 AM on February 2


A bar in Rome near the Trevi fountain posted a sign in its window announcing that "all people coming from China are not allowed to have access in this place." The local police eventually made them remove it; the owner claimed that since no nationalities, only provenances, were specified, no racism was intended... (Not sure the Chinese text supports that claim.)
posted by progosk at 11:03 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


I've noticed that whenever a story about this virus appears in my newsfeeds, it is far more often than not accompanied by a photo of Asian people wearing face masks, even when the story is about something happening outside of Wuhan. For example, stories about the coronavirus being identified somewhere in the US.

When I first noticed, I thought to myself, "Ah hell, here we go again." Our supposedly neutral algorithms and unbiased editors are "just happening" to choose photos that make us associate something bad with an "other."

I would bet my meager life's savings that a lot of the people having these racist and xenophobic reactions couldn't even tell you what the symptoms for coronavirus are, but they're acting like it's Captain Trips from The Stand.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:32 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


Oh wait, there's worse from Rome: the director of the prestigious Santa Cecilia music academy announced forced check-ups for all "East Asian students (Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, etc.), as well as others from affected countries". (On their part, a collective of affected students are currently deciding whether to sue.)
posted by progosk at 12:45 PM on February 2 [7 favorites]


Yesterday, I wanted to buy a filter mask for working in dusty areas (I could get by with a plain dust mask but I figured I'd go full-on filter in case I later needed to do unventilated sawdust-generating woodwork). And, no, no I did not buy a filter mask because people had completely bought out my local hardware store's stash of filter masks. They had a few regular dust masks, but pretty much everything else was gone. I mean, good lord, people, you don't get that freaked out by ACTUAL MAJOR FLU surges in the area.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:40 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]


good lord, people, you don't get that freaked out by ACTUAL MAJOR FLU surges in the area

This exactly. For a while the CBC was pointing out at the bottom of their coronavirus articles that around 12,000 Canadians are hospitalized and 3,500 die from the "ordinary flu" every year. (In the U.S. it's 10,000 to 60,000 deaths per year from the "ordinary flu".)
posted by heatherlogan at 5:12 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]


As if we didn't have enough reasons to hate Uber, the company has suspended 240 accounts in Mexico of people had ridden with two Uber drivers who had also transported someone who was a "possible coronavirus case" (even though there have been no cases of coronavirus in Mexico, and all the suspected cases have so far been tested as negative).

Presumably the 240 passengers who may have caught the virus from their Uber ride can now take the bus. I can't imagine that Uber is compensating the two drivers, either.

(Bloomberg via LA Times)
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:04 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


(As an added bonus, the LA Times illustrated the article about Mexican Uber riders with a photo of a crowd of Asian-looking people, one of whom is wearing a cold mask, with the caption "Travelers wearing sanitary masks amid worries about the spread of coronavirus")
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:13 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


Historically, people love to slap a foreign origin on a disease. Syphilis was "the French pox" in early modern England, and IIRC the French blamed it on another nationality (the Italians?). (Somewhat ironic in that it probably (?) came from the Americas, but the imperialists for once liked insulting each other better than the people they were subjugating.) There are all these astounding WWI- and WWII-era public health posters encouraging American soldiers abroad not to fraternize with those skanky French heaux. Always, the idea that the foreign is both unclean and contagious, often with a side order of licentiousness of some kind. How great to see how primed we still are to respond to it.

it is far more often than not accompanied by a photo of Asian people wearing face masks, even when the story is about something happening outside of Wuhan

Wearing "surgical" masks outside generally (that is, outside the context of a specific outbreak) is, at least in the parts of the United States I've spent time in, a practice almost exclusive to people of Asian descent (probably it's even more specific culturally than that, but I'm obviously not running around polling people on their ethnicities). I live and work in the vicinity of Chinatown and it's pretty routine to see at least a handful of people of Asian descent in masks outside or on the subway on any given day. I think today was the first time I've ever seen a white guy just walking around outside in a "surgical" mask in NYC. That's where the stock photos are coming from. That doesn't mean they should just be deployed in a way that aggravates racist assumptions, of course.

(The stupidity also aggravates me in this specific disease context. WTF do you think a loosely tied mask is going to do when your ungloved hands are touching every surface?)
posted by praemunire at 9:21 AM on February 3


WTF do you think a loosely tied mask is going to do when your ungloved hands are touching every surface?

Part of the purpose of wearing a mask is to avoid the mostly-unconscious touching of the face, nose, and mouth that many of us do throughout the day. So the idea is that you put the mask on when going out, then make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before taking it off.
posted by Lexica at 9:40 AM on February 3


So the idea is that you put the mask on when going out, then make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before taking it off.

...having already spread the contaminant onto multiple surfaces on your home/in your office via your hands.

Surgical masks are primarily to reduce the odds of the wearer's shedding into a patient. They're not going to keep you from inhaling most bacteria or viruses in the air, because you're still breathing unfiltered air. If someone sneezes right in your face, I guess it would be of some help.

Normally, I think of it as a harmless practice even if it doesn't help, and who I am to tell little old ladies born in the provinces before WWII yet still kicking it in the big city how to look after themselves, but if it's going to be used in some weird stigmatizing way now, or if people are relying on something that won't protect them, it's not a good thing.
posted by praemunire at 1:01 PM on February 3


A Philadelphia charter school sent a whole group of Chinese exchange students home after one tested negative for the virus due to "anxiety among parents and students" and because other schools were cancelling athletic competitions with them.

Penn Charter isn't a charter school - it's an exclusive private (Quaker - though less Quaker-y than some of the Friends schools in the area).
posted by Pax at 1:03 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Here's a nice piece featuring someone in Wuhan on her hometown amid a general piece on the uptick in racism - supercute how her fourth point is "and we totally are the city of ancient China OTP!"
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:51 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Shen Lu @shenlulushen (Feb 4, 2020):
On my way to work, a construction worker yelled at me: "Coronavirus." In my 7.5 years of living in US, this was my first encounter with outright racism (surprisingly). Hi, America.

This reminded me that a long time ago I was standing somewhere in Paris with two other Asian Americans and someone driving by yelled "Tiananmen Square!" Racial othering, straight from the headlines.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:37 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Deutsche Welle News (3½ min video, in English)—
Coronavirus: Asians in Paris rattled by racist abuse
DW's nightly news broadcast actually devoted a much larger segment towards the topic of coronavirus-connected racism but it doesn't seem to be online.
posted by XMLicious at 3:11 PM on February 10


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