Walking through the halls of the University Union, I noticed myself trying to suppress my cough. I woke up with typical cold symptoms that morning, but I anticipated there would be at least a few uncomfortable and disapproving glares in my direction if I showed any signs of sickness. I knew the reason for the stares wasn’t only because people wanted to avoid getting sick, but also because of my ethnicity.
The coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China last month, has not only caused global health hysteria, but also increased amounts of anti-Chinese sentiment all across the globe, and Binghamton University is no exception. Last week, WBNG published an article stating that two people were tested for coronavirus in Broome County. The headline alone stated that the people were merely “tested,” so why was it necessary to publish an article in the first place unless to play into people’s fear? Ultimately, the two adults were confirmed negative.
Ever since the publication of that article, it’s been impossible to ignore the passing comments about coronavirus spreading on campus or how people need to “stay away from international students” and anyone they assume to be of Chinese descent. As a Chinese American student attending a college with a considerable Asian population, it’s disheartening that Asian students are targeted by insensitive, racist comments on campus that are fueled by misinformation. I understand it’s only human to be concerned over a viral outbreak, but it is still no excuse for racism and xenophobia.
Other popular media outlets have also turned to sensationalized headlines regarding the virus. Two Australian newspapers published misinformed and discriminatory headlines that implied the coronavirus is labeled by race. The first incident by the Herald Sun called the coronavirus a “Chinese Virus” on their front page, and the Daily Telegraph warned “China kids stay home,” prompting a Change.org petition to apologize for the headlines that has gathered over 70,000 signatures. These headlines are specifically designed to instill fear and give people a reason to easily turn to discrimination and stereotypes they see as justified.
In response to the virus, racist incidents are also occurring on college campuses. At the University of California, Berkeley, the health services department published a now-deleted Instagram post listing “common reactions” to the coronavirus, one of them being “xenophobia.” It’s scary to think that a place where students should feel safe and protected is now normalizing Chinese prejudice on campus.
To put things into perspective, more than 27,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, and about 565 people have died, yielding a current fatality rate around 2 percent. Most of those who have died were not young, healthy people, but were elderly patients or those more susceptible to health complications because of a compromised immune system.
It is also believed that the source of the virus is from Wuhan’s “wet markets,” meat markets that sell live and dead animals. These meat markets aren’t solely a Chinese practice, but people have been quick to blame Chinese eating habits for the spread of the coronavirus. In an article published by the Wall Street Journal, the meat markets are described as “a cluster of vendors in a downtown market offering carcasses and live specimens of dozens of wild animals — from bamboo rats to ostriches, baby crocodiles and hedgehogs.” Just by the wording of this statement, it is apparent that the Chinese are still seen as exotic and inhuman.
These stereotypes date back to the mid-1800s, where the Chinese were targeted by not only racists living in America, but also the American government. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act completely barred the Chinese from entering the United States because they were seen as dirty, threatening and simply un-American. It wasn’t until 1943 that the act was repealed, although only 105 Chinese per year were allowed entry into the United States until 1965. In 2020, I can’t help but fear that our country will fall back into the same racist ideals.
With a global health emergency that’s widely misunderstood, I understand that it’s easy for people to quickly panic over bolded headlines and unconfirmed information, but it’s unacceptable to project that fear and uncertainty onto Chinese people. We’re all human and we’re all vulnerable to illness, race aside.
Katy Wong is a senior majoring in English and Pipe Dream’s managing editor.