The Blame Game Needs to Stop: Xenophobia and COVID19

Global crises and panic open the door for the viruses of racism and xenophobia, our generation must stop the spread, says Elaine Zhai.

Now COVID19 has made people angry at fish. Only a few weeks after people in China began taking the first steps in resuming their normal lives, fears of a new strain erupted in Beijing. The reemergence has sparked rumours which lay the blame on imported salmon, giving rise to a new word – xenopescophobia; the fear of foreign fish. 

Xenopescophobia originates from the Greek word xenophobia, which was first used after a surge in immigration in the late 19th century to describe a fear of foreigners . The practice of looking to assign blame in troubling times is an approach we’ve taken for centuries. Why should we deal with the intensity of fear, or the complexity of problems, when it’s much easier to channel these feelings into anger, and project it onto others?

For centuries this has been used to strengthen racial divisions and reinforce white supremacy. In fact, this fear has been used to ignite countless massacres and injustices. In the 1800s, westward expansion and increased labor competition between Irish immigrants and local Americans heightened domestic social and economic tensions. To distract from the growing internal conflict, rumors of the Irish being “alcoholics” and “savages” circulated. The anti-Irish sentiment eventually culminated into the formation of the Know Nothing party, a platform intended to keep Catholics and immigrants from gaining any political power. Then, during the Long Depression, politicians and bankers sought to deflect blame for the recession and rising unemployment by informing American labourers that Chinese immigrants were stealing their jobs and threatening their economic security. This xenophobia was legalised with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. 

Historically, nativists have been quick to attack foreigners, with charges of uncleanliness or savagery. It’s no coincidence that nativist sentiments find wider, more willing audiences during pandemics. In 2009, nativists exploited fears of the swine flu to target Mexican Americans, accusing them of being primitive and alien-like and also using the opportunity to call for their deportation. Only a few years earlier, in 2003, Chinese Americans were blamed for the SARS outbreak, and anyone who looked Asian suffered from the stigmatization and discrimination that the virus fueled. And before that, HIV in the 1980s was deemed “the 4H disease” for its supposed likeliness to infect “Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroin” users

And now once again we’re playing the blame game. The unforeseen arrival of the COVID19 virus to the United States has led to finger-pointing –and violence — against the Chinese-American community. President Trump, in need of a scapegoat, has deemed the pandemic the “Chinese Virus,” thrusting Asian Americans into the line of fire. 

My generation needs to stand against this behaviour and actively reject the age-old approach of looking for people to blame in times of panic. Instead, let’s set an example by working to address our fear through taking positive, productive, and inclusive action. Our rejection of the xenophobia of the past can be one bright spot in these dark times.

Feature image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

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The Blame Game Needs to Stop: Xenophobia and COVID19

by Elaine Zhai Reading time: 2 min