Coronavirus jokes reinforce sinophobia

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The discourse was inevitable. With Asians making up at least 18 percent of the Carnegie Mellon student population as of the Fall 2018 Academic Year, the effects of the coronavirus outbreak were bound to be discussed on campus at large. Heated debates about sinophobia, racism, and the coronavirus already surfaced about a month ago on the Facebook page “Confessions at Carnegie Mellon”. The page posted a confession about an adjunct professor joking about the disease outbreak.

The Tartan reported the university administration’s response to the disease outbreak two weeks ago. However, The Tartan has yet to synthesize the conversations on “Confessions at Carnegie Mellon” and analyze the social effects of the coronavirus outbreak that extend beyond infected areas. Now is the time to talk about the sinophobia and racism that came with the media coverage of the coronavirus. The excessive media coverage of the coronavirus perpetuates sinophobia and racism that have real, harmful consequences for local Asian communities.

Ever since the World Health Organization released a statement declaring the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic as a “global emergency,” universities around the nation, including Carnegie Mellon University, have issued travel bans and have strongly encouraged people coming from China to self-isolate for 14 days. Although these precautionary measures are intended to prevent the disease from spreading to campuses, the policies inflate the severity of the coronavirus's social, rather than medical, effects and heighten public fear of Chinese people. Even though the flu is more likely to kill Americans than the coronavirus, the coronavirus receives more attention and needs specialized prevention policies. The recommendation of self-isolation seems drastic when the major concern of the virus is its novelty. The policies’ focus on people from China — despite cases of coronavirus being reported in Western countries such as Italy, Spain, and France — singles out China as the sole harbinger of disease. Therefore, avoidance of Chinese people becomes associated with coronavirus prevention.

With the mainstream coverage of the coronavirus came the racist jokes on social media. These jokes, appearing as typical Gen-Z dark humor, circulate misinformation about the spread of the coronavirus by appealing to Chinese stereotypes of uncleanliness and “disgusting” food preferences. A popular conspiracy theory about bat soup causing the Wuhan virus outbreak was repeated in different tabloids to personally blame Chinese people for the epidemic. The jokes normalize racism against Asians. They treat the alienation of Asians as a casual, humorous response to a tragic crisis and reinforce the undesirability of Asians.

The global sinophobia caused by the media is of important consequence. People use the coronavirus as an excuse to harass Asian university students and bully Asian children. Sinophobia killed a man in Australia as bystanders refused to perform CPR, fearing that he might carry the disease. Chinese restaurants are losing business, as people irresponsibly believe that all Chinese food is contaminated as a result of the outbreak. The coronavirus fear spread over the media needs to be addressed. It’s hurting Asian communities by rationalizing blatant racism.

Luckily, government officials in the U.S. and China are already working to crack down on misinformation about the coronavirus. U.S. lawmakers are encouraging major social media platforms — such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter — to cooperate in promoting credible information about the virus outbreak. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China must exhibit transparency in reporting the outbreak by releasing accurate information in a timely manner. However, individual community members must also join efforts to curb misinformation and sinophobia if Asians are to feel welcome in their communities. Everyone must speak out against racist memes and condemn sinophobic news coverage so that Asians can be included in solving the coronavirus epidemic.