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Was it because I am white? Nicole Pihan on coronavirus discrimination

By Nicole M Pihan Feb 7, 2020

Some call the Coronavirus an ‘Asian disease’ and they could not be more wrong.

The world is in the midst of a global health emergency,  and we should not be allowing racism to overcome the tragedy.

The media focuses strongly on the death toll and has influenced west to believe that once you have the virus, you are basically done for. People fear that they will become infected by merely walking past an Asian person.

In the middle of January, the media splashed the 80 deaths from the virus without so much as mentioning the 51 who recovered in China, and it is these numbers that keep rising.

A specialist on rapid detection systems for infectious disease diagnosis said: “I think that is an important message to get across, that this is a disease from which you can recover.”

Many facts and myths are circulating because of the way the outbreak is being reported, and ultimately, the situation has increased the mistreatment and discrimination.

This is just wrong and shows our ignorance and lack of perspective. Understandably, people want to be alert. After all, it seems that this is all the media have been talking about lately.

However, the level of fear spreading across western countries causes people to be more than just alert. Bullying and oppression have been born off the back of fear, worry and hysteria. Suddenly the western world has started to interpret standard Asian habits as a threat.

Wearing a face mask to keep a high standard of hygiene and avoid the spread of germs is a common practice in Asian culture but is now resulting in targeted harassment in the UK.

Attention is drawn to the masks because of fear that the facial mask is an indicator for carrying around sickness. They forget that this is the way they show their respect to other people and try to avoid the spread of bacteria.

I decided to travel across London during rush hour from Bethnal Green to Kingston wearing a face mask.

As a white European, I was not sure how people would react, but I was expecting some confrontation.

I have never in my life experienced so many judgemental looks from strangers, and I am a master of the controversial Halloween costumes.

Surprisingly, people did not try to avoid physical contact with me as I was still squashed into the carriage and surrounded by people on the Central line.

But has this situation occurred because I am white?

We need to remember that it could easily be this side of the world next time, and we might need their sympathy and help.

Instead of creating an uncomfortable situation filled with contradicting information, we should focus on what matters most at this point: uniting nations to overcome the coronavirus and get affected people back home.

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