Around the planet, from Peru to Melbourne to Paris, Asians are subjected to threats and abuse under the pretext of viral contagion.
“I am not a VIRUS / I’m a HUMAN / ERADICATE THE PREJUDICE.”
As I write this, I am into the second week of being stuck at home with my children as the area in which I live has had no school or daycare due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The reaction to Coronavirus has been similar in most countries: massive school closings, healthcare screenings at airports, and movie theaters and concert halls are closing. People are changing their habits as a result with some children being home-schooled and many consumers avoiding paying for items with cash preferring to go contactless through the use of mobile phones or credit cards to limit what objects they touch.
Another sad and predictable result of Coronavirus, now officially named Covid-19, are racist attacks on people who are known or perceived to be Chinese. In Italy, a pizzeria in Forlì has forbidden Chinese people from entering “for security reasons,” in Rome a bar near Trevi Fountain has banned “people coming from China” and in Venice Chinese tourists have been chased, verbally attacked and spat upon. Chinese restaurants across the country report a drop in clients such that many have shut their doors, if only temporarily with the hopes that this storm will ride out.
“Chinese tourists have been chased, verbally attacked and spat upon.”
In Paris mid February, a Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant in Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine) was the target of graffiti tagging which read “Coronavirus, get out, virus.” And in a playground in a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, anti-Chinese racism reached a school playground where Chinese children were bullied with one student being accused of eating a dog. There are numerous reports of children being bullied on school buses and even a publication, the Courrier picard, in January ran a cover entitled “YELLOW ALERT.”
Things were so bad last month in Paris alone, that the organization SOS Racisme launched a campaigned to educate the public about xenophobia, racism and the reality of Coronavirus. Still, Asian restaurants across Paris have seen a decline in business estimated at 30% and many foreigners from Asia are nervous across the country as racist attacks range from the verbal to the physical and even social media is replete with xenophobic attacks as one person writes, “because of [your] poop bat soup you are infecting everyone.”
One need only to look on Twitter under the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus to see accounts of racism and xenophobia directed at Asians across the planet—from Peru to Melbourne to Great Britain where one man was asked if he had “Ching Chang disease.” “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country,” exclaimed the attacker of a Singaporean student, Jonathan Mok, yesterday who was viciously attacked in London. There is no safe space for racism when a virus strikes and we are witnessing the recycling of history which centuries before revealed the same prejudices, slurs and violence and where the distrust of disease meant that everyone was suspect.
“Asian restaurants across Paris have seen a decline in business estimated at 30%.”
But there is a refreshing pushback to the racism and xenophobia gripping Europe. Sun-Lay Tan, a former politician (UDI) of Mitry-Mory (Seine-et-Marne) kissed the Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Marlène Schiappa, last month on Channel 8 to demonstrate that he poses no risk to his fellow French nationals. In Italy, Massimiliano Martigli Jiang, Vice-Chairman of the Italian-Chinese Youth Union has put on a performance in Florence where he he has written in Italian, Chinese and English, “I am not a VIRUS / I’m a HUMAN / ERADICATE THE PREJUDICE.” as he dawns a mask and a blindfold where many passers-by embrace him instead of avoiding him. And remember the pizzeria owner in Italy who posted a sign on his restaurant prohibiting “all Chinese” from entering? Well the owner of this restaurant in an attempt to “make peace” donated the proceeds of his business from one day to the Spallanzani hospital in Rome which conducts research into the Coronavirus. OK, it’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
And this is where we might lead off our days in following the hashtag above or creating our own in the fight against racism and the lead towards cultural, social and political solidarity.
Julian Vigo is a scholar and filmmaker who has worked in the fields of ethnography, media studies, critical theory, gender studies, and visual culture and has taught at universities throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Julian Vigo is also a permaculturalist, dj, yogi and human rights activist.
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