SALGADO: Xenophobia related to coronavirus needs to stop

Prejudicial+comments+and+hysteria+from+the+coronavirus+is+dangerous+to+Marquette+students+and+campus.+Marquette+Wire+stock+photo.+

Prejudicial comments and hysteria from the coronavirus is dangerous to Marquette students and campus. Marquette Wire stock photo.

The intro of “Wolves” by Kanye West is featured in a Jan. 24 tweet that is accompanied by an edited video of ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith exclaiming that he is “having a very bad day.”

30,000 retweets and 134,000 thousand likes later, the tweet has officially gone viral — no harm done, right? The problem with the tweet is found in its caption that says, “When you’re in class and the Chinese foreign exchange student starts coughing.”

This tweet is just one of many like it, that, in the wake of the viral coronavirus, has proliferated and normalized racist and xenophobic ideas. 

Twitter has become the battleground for people’s protests about whether coronavirus can affect them. In effect, some blatantly racist tweets have been posted. Examples of this include a tweet where someone expressed fear of getting coronavirus at a nail salon and another by a man who makes a joke about getting coronavirus because he went to a Chinese restaurant. Beyond just being overtly racist, these tweets display how illogical the racist sentiments are. These comments have filled the cracks of the conversation behind coronavirus.

Asian students have expressed their discontent with the situation through Twitter as well as with tweets like, “one of my mom’s students just like. didn’t show up to Chinese class because they were afraid that she had the coronavirus” and “a kid in my class was repulsed b/c I’m Asian and he said that me being Asian meant i had coronavirus. So I coughed on him.”   

Beyond social media, this irrational fear of coronavirus has started to affect the daily lives of Asian people across the country. People I have spoken with about this have expressed a feeling of being targeted due to the perceived idea that being Asian somehow makes them more likely to have coronavirus. Daniel Sim, a friend and a sophomore at Arizona State University where there is a nearby case, said that he has noticed that his friends have been making more jokes about him being Korean. Also, he said he has realized more aggressive actions being directed at him simply because he is Asian. 

“People will give me dirty looks when I like lightly cough in class,” Sim said.

The tendency for people to subscribe to these xenophobic ideas have been heightened in recent months in the Midwest, particularly Milwaukee, because of reported cases of coronavirus in Chicago and Dane County, Wisconsin.  The fear of coronavirus from Chicago has been materialized because of its proximity to Milwaukee and because it houses one of the largest international airports in the United States. Chicago was one of the first cities in the United States to have a case of coronavirus and it still has two confirmed cases.

For Marquette in particular, many students are from the Chicago area, which has only fanned the flame of this irrational fear of coronavirus. In turn, it has increased the potency of the prejudices towards Asian people on campus. 

University Vice Provost John Su indicated incidents of avoidance in an email to faculty and staff. Students who have travelled internationally have faced recent avoidance from others on campus, even though the Marquette Medical Clinic said there are no confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases at Marquette or in the broader Milwaukee area.

Additionally, approximately 577 Asian undergraduate students were enrolled at Marquette University at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis. Asian students account for the second largest group of students of color behind Hispanic students; they should not be unwelcome or have to feel unsafe on campus due to unjustified fear and discrimination.

The xenophobic narrative is only amplified by Milwaukee’s proximity to known cases. The close proximity to Milwaukee and the fact that Marquette is a popular school for Asian students could continue to cause issues on campus.

While I understand being alarmed by the prospect of a global epidemic surrounding a disease that does not yet have a cure, I do not understand being unjustifiably scared of Asian people simply because of the disease. Rather than blindly hurling racist comments, people should instead realize how little the current American population is being directly affected by this disease. I know it is easy to get caught up in a situation such as this, but the harassment of others because of their race is never justified, and this case is no different.

This story was written by Beck Andrew Salgado. He can be reached at beck.salgado@marquette.edu.