There’s something harmful and horrific spreading across this country, and it’s not a biological illness. It’s the idea that calling coronavirus “kung flu” is funny.
I shouldn’t have to say this. You know not to be a racist xenophobic jerk, right? Many of you reading this would, in fact, never consider making such jokes. And for this you shall be awarded one gold star and the responsibility to stare dead-eyed at your friends who say racist things and say “Wait, I don’t get it. Explain to me again why that’s funny?” until they realise what they are saying and die of embarrassment.
Your service is, sadly, needed. Asian students are being bullied at school; a Canadian public health minister who was born in Hong Kong received racist comments when she spoke about coronavirus. Also…you’ve probably heard or seen (or made?) plenty of nasty jokes.
“The panic over coronavirus isn’t racist!!” pic.twitter.com/vZSFuNFZcq
— Amanda 余美娜 (@catcontentonly) February 2, 2020
Panic and prejudice are, sadly, normal occurrences during outbreaks. And they’re not just harmless jokes. For example, it’s reasonable to ask whether the current quarantines of travellers from China are motivated more by xenophobia than any other concern. The World Health Organisation specifically advised against quarantining healthy travellers, saying the evidence is against it.
So the jokes aren’t funny; targeting and racially profiling people isn’t nice or effective; and stereotypes are fuelling misinformation, too. For example, British tabloids dug up old videos of Chinese people eating unusual foods, including bats, implying that such practices are to blame for the virus. There’s no truth to that, but the videos went viral.
We can do better than this. If you’re worried about coronavirus, direct your energy in appropriate directions. Wash your hands, get your flu shot, and give your friends a death glare if they try to get you to laugh at their horrible jokes.