‘I am not a virus’
Our way of life as a people has noticeably changed around the world because of the outbreak of COVID-19.
The last time a similar incident happened that significantly altered communal behavior worldwide was on Sept. 11, 2001 (“9/11”) when the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City were destroyed by al-Qaida terrorists.
The 9/11 attacks caused xenophobia against Muslims to reach unprecedented heights worldwide. Innocent Muslims were physically assaulted or harassed in the United States and Europe in preposterous acts of vengeance. Even to this day, Muslims are profiled and discriminatorily subjected to more stringent security procedures. The 9/11 incident may have been among the contributory reasons that gave rise to rightist and fascist leaders who foment racial intolerance around the world today.
Almost 20 years after 9/11, airline passengers are still subjected to the very strict security protocols that became permanent features in our lives. Until today, airline passengers are prohibited from bringing liquids in their carry-on luggage, they are required to invariably have their shoes go through x-ray machines, and metal utensils are no longer used for in-flight meals.
What’s happening now because of the virus outbreak is reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11. The use of masks, alcohol, and temperature guns are becoming routine features in our lives. People are avoiding handshakes and “beso-beso” (cheek kissing), and are instead practicing the Japanese bow as an alternative form of greeting.
There is xenophobia against mainland Chinese in Asia, and against all Asian people in Western countries like the United States and in Europe. “Racist assaults and ignorant attacks against Asians” are happening in the United States, CNN wrote last week. Even individuals of Thai and Vietnamese ancestry have been verbally or physically assaulted in subway stations in the United States because they were mistaken for Chinese.
France is also facing an “epidemic” of anti-Asian racism, Euronews reports. The European news media relates that the COVID-19 outbreak “is affecting not only citizens of Chinese descent but Asians as a whole. And it’s not just happening online but also on public transport and in schools.” There are incidents of people who are insulted and kicked off public transport or subjected to slurs in school playgrounds and supermarkets, because they are Asian. There are also multiple reports of physical assault against Chinese tourists in Italy.
The “unfounded psychosis” against Asians in France has extended even to Asian food as some restaurants are experiencing steep declines in their revenues. “In Chinatowns from London to Boston to San Francisco, business owners and restaurateurs have reported sharp sales declines,” according to The Washington Post. Even restaurants in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam have reportedly refused entry to Chinese customers.
In the Philippines, some Chinese-Filipinos and mainland Chinese tourists are complaining of bias against them since the outbreak. A friend narrated that he recently went to a Mang Inasal restaurant for lunch where he noticed the woeful scene of two Chinese-looking men who were seated in the middle of the restaurant, while the rest of the diners chose to occupy tables that were noticeably farthest from the Chinese customers.
We engage in racial discrimination against people of Chinese descent in our country, but we in turn face the risk of getting a taste of our own medicine when we travel to the United States and Europe because we can be at the receiving end of racial hostility toward all Asians.
There’s a growing number of people who are banding online to push back against anti-
Asian racism that’s spreading fast. They are posting on Twitter using the hashtag #Jenesuispasunvirus, which poignantly translates to “I am not a virus.”
The hashtag may well be the vaccine that the world needs to combat the virus of racial discrimination that’s spreading as fast, and can be as deadly, as the COVID-19 outbreak.
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