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A Layer of Scum: Xenophobia and COVID-19

A Layer of Scum: Xenophobia and COVID-19
Image courtesy The Economist.

Roar Writer Isabella Sheekey on the increased levels of xenophobia brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The author Edward Abbey once remarked, “Society is like stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in awhile, then a layer of scum floats to the top”. And as of now, I believe we are in need of a stir.

The disease named COVID-19 has revealed to society the importance of everyday practises such as washing hands. It has also brought to light an ugliness in society, the result of fear: Xenophobia. The source of the disease was China, and is it spread across the globe, cases of discrimination against the Asian population began increasing.

On February 24th, in Oxford Street, 23-year-old Singaporean Jonathan Mok of Chinese ethnicity was attacked by some of Abbey’s scum. He suffered significant injury that may result in surgery to reverse the damage.

“The guy who tried to kick me then said, ‘I don’t want your coronavirus in my country’, before swinging another sucker punch at me, which resulted in my face exploding with blood (from my nose),” wrote Mok on Facebook.

This attack is just one of the examples of the rising discrimination against East Asians across the world following the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

The discrimination does not always take the form of physical attacks, but it is consistently present within social media platforms in digital form. This pandemic has seen the stigmatisation of the East Asian community as a way of collective coping. ‘Meme’ culture, which may to some be an innocent coping strategy in uncertain times, is contributing to this increasing xenophobia.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the fear created by this disease is fostering discrimination. What may have remained as underlying racist ideology in the form of an inappropriate dinner party joke is being transformed into something much greater. Refusing to sit next to those of Chinese ethnicity. Verbally abusing individuals on the basis of the colour of their skin.

By no means is a casual, dormant racist acceptable. However, it did mean that such individuals were able to fade into the background of society, their racist views only surfacing occasionally. COVID-19 has allowed a more aggressive, stark form of racism to rear its ugly head in society, one which is highlighting the extent of the xenophobia in this country.

Will it really take the result of a global pandemic to provide the shake-up society needs to become more aware of its casual racism? Or will the shake-up just result in the layer of scum coagulating and becoming a permanent fixture in our post-COVID-19 community?




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