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Epidemics Multiplied by Racism


Until just days ago, when the WHO officially sanctioned the name COVID-19, today’s epidemic was best known as the China Coronavirus. This popular nomenclature was understandable: the disease originated in China and almost exclusively infected and affected Chinese. The response was also understandable: nations closing their borders to Chinese travelers in an effort to mitigate the spread.


Yet an inevitable by-product of these phenomenon is to begin viewing with suspicion people of Chinese heritage. Primitive as this sounds, such bias is well documented. With the outbreak of HIV, we witnessed widespread bias against Africans – the continent from where the epidemic originated. The SARS epidemic of 2003, originating in Hong Kong, was is accompanied by sizable paranoia against Asians.


This week’s news that COVID-19 now infects growing numbers of Iranians, Italians, and Koreans is genuinely concerning. But it may also lessen the temptation to view this disease as one for which the Chinese nation or people should be singled out. Rather, the increasingly global nature of this crisis requires a cooperative and coordinated response. Without such unity, racism may prove as deadly an enemy as the disease itself.


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