Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday January 29, 2020
Bigotry is the virus we should worry most about
Sadly, it didn’t take long for racism, xenophobia and social media idiocy to become part of the coronavirus story. Mere days after the first confirmed Canadian cases were identified, social media content from the wacky to the downright dangerous began making the rounds.
The virus is a U.S.-government patented germ warfare weapon. It can be treated with herbs and spices. It’s a global population reduction tool.
But the worst, and the most offensive, social media poison blames Chinese (or Asian) people in general for the virus. It has been linked to hygiene and eating habits and other things that don’t bear repeating.
Viewed in isolation, most of this stuff is just stupid, some is downright laughable. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Thanks to social media, the cranks, trolls and plain evil people in the world live next to a fast-moving river. They can toss their garbage in, and watch it circulate all around the world in no time. Broken telephone syndrome sets in, and then even the most innocuous claims and commentary can get twisted into something much worse. They can even devolve into fomenting hatred.
Bigotry and xenophobia directed at Chinese Canadians is not new. In the 19th century, the racist term ‘yellow peril’ was used to describe the threat posed by the expansion of power and influence of people from Asia. Racism was legislated into Canadian immigration policy.
We might have hoped that Canada had evolved past those offensive views. But the SARS crisis of 2003 proved that’s not the case. Chinese people, and anyone who looked Asian, felt naked bigotry. Businesses went from busy to empty overnight. Toronto lost an estimated $1 billion as tourists avoided the city, especially areas with many Chinese businesses.
As the current coronavirus story gained prominence, some of the same people who experienced all that in 2003 worried publicly that the same thing could happen again in 2020. Amy Go, interim president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, put it this way in an interview in an interview with The Guardian: “I was hopeful it wasn’t going to be like 2003. But it is. It’s happening now and it’s just going to be amplified (by social media).”
A group of Chinese moms worried about the “inevitable wave of racism” that would arrive with the spreading virus. One of them, Terri Chu, said: “My Twitter has just exploded with vitriol since this morning.”
A popular Toronto blog reviewed a new Chinese restaurant on Instagram and the post was drowned in a sea of racist comments. Nine thousand parents at a school board north of Toronto called for kids who have been to China recently to be kept home from school.
Here we go, yet again.
This new coronavirus, like the last one, is a scary thing. But its relative risk to the general population remains very low. In the three cases reported so far, the victims have self-identified, and in two cases have isolated themselves to protect others.
Public health authorities have implemented measures they learned from the SARS crisis. It is too early to call them 100 per cent successful, but so far they’re working. The best advice as of now remains consistent: frequent hand washing, coughing and sneezing into sleeves, reporting symptoms when appropriate and stay tuned to legitimate news sources for the latest updates.
And if you hear or see bigotry or xenophobia directed at Chinese Canadians, or anyone else for that matter, consider saying something. Don’t just scroll by in silence. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)