I had expected that my Jewish friend Judy and her family would cancel our plan of having dinner at my home after the cases of coronavirus in Toronto were confirmed. The idea of getting together to celebrate the Chinese New Year came weeks before the Wuhan virus outbreak, which has affected tens of thousands of people in China and expanded beyond the border. The fear over the virus seems to make everyone's hair stand on end. It has caused impulsive reactions that try to steer away from anyone who looked like an Asian, let alone to have dinner at the house of a Chinese Canadian family.
The pandemic has negatively impacted the overseas Chinese Diasporas. However, the mental toll it has taken on the Asian community seemed to be far more substantial than the physical. The confirmed cases in Canada are limited to few, but the entire Asian community suffers the taboo of being the potential virus carrier. Amid the growing stigma, racism and discrimination are on the rise. Asian ethnics were shunned away on buses and avoided in public space. Strangers on the street asked them to wear masks. They became the target of "Yellow Alert" by tabloid newspapers.
The racism against the Asian Canadian community emerged in Toronto during the SARS outbreak, which killed 774 people of the 8098 infected. As the pandemic hit Toronto financially, tourism dropped, and business in Chinatown saw a significant loss of income. The covert racism was more evident when Ipsos poll found that two-thirds of Canadians wanted individuals arriving from SARS-affected areas not be allowed into the country.
And as the Wuhan virus crisis escalates, the return of the discrimination seemed to be more brazen, vile, and hateful than SARS outbreak, says Avvy Go, president of Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice. Social media has fueled the stigma and resentment against the community, leaving misinformation and blatantly racism festered on the internet. Some online posts even urge to avoid and quarantine the entire Chinese Canadian community.
Stories about the overseas Asians targeted by racism keep haunting us. My 21-year-old daughter, whose skin color is the only trait of her Chinese ethnicity, was called a " dirty chink " at her university when she was coughing into her arm. A 17-year-old Parisian of Vietnamese and Cambodian origin told BBC that humiliating remarks hurled at her on a bus in a French city that accused her of being a virus and a source of contamination. But more shockingly, these disparaging comments often resonated with looks of disgust and hatred towards the targeted victim, rather than to spark condemnations from others around.
The anti-Asian racism comes from ignorance and uninformed fears, which triggers the hectic scapegoating and the reaction of frantically searching for people to blame. The irrational phobia fuels an existing ethnic prejudice against those who are different, from an “inferior” cultural background, and with “disgusting” eating habits.
But despite the growing racism, millions of well-informed Canadians can view the outbreak through a calm and objective lens. They embrace cultural differences and have adopted moral values of civil and multicultural society not to inflict a collateral wound on a minority race.
Judy arrived at my home on time, with her family in tow and a red rose bouquet in her hand. She told me that the concerns about the outbreak had never crossed her mind as she decided to come for dinner as planned. Because she values her friendship with a Chinese Canadian family, she said, and because she knew that my family, like many of their Caucasian friends, did not recently return from the virus-affected area.
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