Friendly reminder: 'The virus does not mean you get to be a dick to Asians'

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Coronavirus infections continue to rise around the world but, faster than the infection rate, is the growth of racism against Asians.


It was early February and I was on an inbound flight, returning to Sydney from Singapore. It had been three weeks since COVID-19 became the centre of the world's attention.

I had my mask on, like most on the flight, and was seated next to a white woman. She looked at me, then at the flight attendant, and asked: "Are there any other free seats on the plane?" The flight was full.

That was the first time.

Back in Sydney, I went to see a doctor for a persistent cough I had had for months. I called ahead of my visit and the conversation went like this.

Me: Hello, could I have an appointment with the doctor for today?
Her: Yes, we have an opening for 3pm. What is this regarding?
Me: I have had a persistent cough since early December.
Her: Oh, have you been travelling?
Me: Yes, I just came back from Singapore two days ago.
Her: Are you Asian?

That was the second time.

Two weeks later, I went on a late-night Maccas run after a night out. There I crossed paths with members of a university football team. I said hello to a friend on the team as they walked by. Then I heard one call me "coronavirus" and say "to go back home." There were witnesses.

That was the third time.

The bystander effect has rapidly compounded with a rise in racism due to fear of the virus.

In Sydney, a man, with no relation to the coronavirus, collapsed in Chinatown and died because no one would give him CPR. A student studying in Perth journeyed home to Malaysia for Chinese New Year, only to discover, on her return, her house had been locked and the landlord had kicked her out for going home. FYI, Malaysia is not in China.

It isn't happening just in Australia. A Singaporean student was assaulted in public in an incident in London, accused of carrying the coronavirus just because of his appearance; and in New York, an Asian-American was insulted and sprayed with air freshener on a subway train.

Nobody helped any of them. The bystander effect has rapidly compounded with the rise in racism due to fear of the virus and no one is standing up for us. People are dying and getting hurt without having even the slightest connection to the coronavirus.

Before this virus, I had never really experienced racism. As well as fearing the infection, I now have to fear the discrimination. Before the lockdown, I felt people inched away from me on the bus when I sat next to them. When I go out now for exercise, I feel I have to continuously watch my back.

I feel as if I am being judged in everything I do, say, and that I do not belong in Australia. Here, I am judged as somehow less than the white majority because of the colour of my skin. Mistreating a human based on skin colour has been in every history book. Now, history is repeating itself and it is the same perpetrators, people who have never gone through institutionalised racism. And yet, we let them do it.

When did it become okay to group all Asians into one singular race like the doctor did to me? As we know, the virus started in Wuhan, China, but the Western world has somehow put Koreans, Japanese, Indonesians, Thais, Filipinos and Malaysians (like me) into one box with the Chinese. Thus, allowing the West to freely be prejudicial and discriminatory to anyone who may have the slightest shade of yellow. Friendly reminder, the virus does not mean you get to be a dick to Asians.

Countries in Europe, as well as the United States of America are currently the epicentres for the virus, with the World Health Organisation (WHO), warning Africa could be next. The virus, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), knows no race. "Do not assume that if someone is of Asian descent, they have coronavirus," said Doctor Nancy Meissonier, director of the CDC's National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases.

What will it take for the world to stop blaming "the Asians" and accusing only them of carrying the virus? The entire world becoming infected –185 of the world's 195 countries now have confirmed cases – so there is no one left to blame and avoid?

If you are that fearful of the virus and have to rely on being racist to protect yourself, as the lockdown lifts, maybe you should continue to stay home because anyone could have it.


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