TRUTHOUT 20 March 2020
In a world in which the majority of human suffering is perpetrated by a small minority against the vast majority, a small silver-lining of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is that it seems to have us all on the same side. A scourge with the capacity to terrorize those in charge means that we are, ironically, both more scared and safer. We are increasingly made aware of, and given some of the best tools available to confront, the emergency of “life under COVID-19,” in a way that we are not for the everyday terror that is “life under capitalism.”
Climate change, war, genocide, economic exploitation, famine and curable disease take more victims daily than COVID-19 will in its entire reign. Because these phenomena are foundational to the status quo, victimizing those subjected to it rather than those who subject others to it, they aren’t shocking but routine. As such, they will never inspire the coordinated global response that coronavirus already has.
But of course, even an equal-opportunity virus exists in a social context that is anything but equal, ensuring that a nondiscriminatory illness has discriminatory impacts.
Coronavirus’s entrance into public consciousness has reinvigorated long-standing, anti-Chinese narratives, swiftly piercing many Western countries’ thin veneer of multicultural civility. Our friends, co-workers, neighbors and community members of East Asian descent — including children — have been experiencing ostracism, harassment, ridicule and economic persecution. That British immigrants weren’t similarly targeted amid the “Mad Cow” disease outbreak scares, exposes the ugly truth underlying this phenomenon. As Edward Hon-Sing Wong of the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto chapter has written, this “latest health epidemic is a reminder of the pervasive racism that deems Chinese populations to be inherently foreign, unhygienic and carriers of disease.”
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