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EDITORIAL: Racism's impact grows during outbreak

Epidemics prove to be fertile grounds for prejudice

With the coronavirus potentially spreading into New Jersey, students are best advised to remain vigilant regarding their health.

“The New Jersey Department of Health is investigating a possible case of the novel coronavirus ... The unidentified patient is awaiting test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and no further details are being provided at this time,” according to The Daily Targum.

In addition to remaining vigilant regarding their health, students should also take special precaution to remain vigilant regarding racism and racist narratives used by their peers. During times like these, when an outbreak is closely associated to a particular nation — as is the case with the coronavirus and China — racism against the inflicted nation tends to rise.

“ ... the reactions in Canada – which includes some of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world – expose a current of everyday racism which is always present. ‘Two or three months from now, the coronavirus will likely be gone. But this is not just a public health issue. This is an issue of racism in Canada,’” an article from The Guardian said.

Racism, general prejudice and disease have a history — it is certainly not something exclusive to the current outbreak in China. Back in 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) broke out, also in China. This resulted in a wave of racism and prejudice against the Chinese community. 

Journalist Evelyn Kwong, writing for The Toronto Star, detailed her experiences during the 2003 outbreak.

“My memory of SARS was constantly being asked by classmates and strangers if I had the virus — despite that fact that I could in no way have come in contact with the illness. I had to keep proving to others that I was ‘whiter’ than what they saw as Asians by throwing out my Chinese lunches that my mom would pack or never clearing my throat when I needed to. But that didn’t stop people from avoiding my mother and me in public spaces,” Kwong said.

While critiques of the Chinese government for downplaying the severity of the outbreak are warranted, vile, widespread hatred fueled toward the nation’s citizens are completely out-of-place and hateful.

China is not the only country whose population and broader ethnic community has faced attacks due to a disease that they had no part in propagating. Ebola broke out in 2014, beginning in Africa. The disease was also accompanied by a wave of racism, much like the current coronavirus and SARS.

“America: your xenophobia is showing. Many have lost sight that the only way to become infected with Ebola is by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who’s showing symptoms. Others have ignored the fact that, so far, no one who came into contact with Duncan has developed symptoms of Ebola. Instead, there are calls for larger quarantines in Dallas — or a continent-wide one in Africa,” an article from The Verge said.

It is clear that racists will use whatever ammunition they can stumble by to fuel their prejudiced views, and something as drastic and devastating as disease is no exception.

The most infamous, perhaps, case of disease being used to fuel prejudice is the AIDS crisis of the early 1980s, which extended well into the 1990s and still has repercussions today.

The impact from AIDS-related homophobia was felt by the homosexual male community especially — not only through typical forms of discrimination, such as verbal or physical harassment, but also medically as well. Due to the stigma around homosexuality, the public was wary of addressing the disease, which cost lives. Former President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary even laughed when asked about the crisis.

“As the anti-gay reaction gained steam across America with the election of Moral Majority ally Ronald Reagan, activists found their demands for attention for a growing medical crisis were ignored,” NBC News writes.

It is clear that prejudice has no place in society, even more especially when an outbreak occurs. While, thankfully, the coronavirus has not been weaponized too aggressively — yet — the public must not let disease dilute their egalitarian views.

And if New Jersey is unfortunate enough to experience the coronavirus, Rutgers students, considering the diverse population and wide attendance at the school, have to also remain unbiased and empathetic.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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