The Wuhan coronavirus has dominated the news in recent weeks. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency, and the U.S. recently announced it would temporarily deny entry to foreign nationals who were deemed capable of posing the risk of transmitting the virus.
But equally sinister is the onslaught of xenophobic sentiment against Chinese individuals. In the wake of the virus’ outbreak, blame and active racism towards the Chinese government and population have been recurrent themes, the result being a growing resentment and social stigma against East Asians.
With the existence of loud and competing news outlets, as well as social media, fear-mongering, racial stereotyping and misinformation have been promulgated during this time of public emergency. This allows those who might have harbored preexisting prejudice towards various groups — particularly racial and ethnic groups from East Asia — to further spread racism and xenophobic sentiment.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen East Asians scapegoated on a global platform for the spread of a disease. The term “Yellow Peril” was coined in the 19th century, a racist metaphor that targeted East Asians in Western nations. The phrase embodies severe anti-Asian xenophobia and sensationalist stereotypes, promoting the idea that people from East Asia are a threat to the Western world.
In the U.S. specifically, government and pop culture propaganda used this image to fuel racist portrayals of Chinese people as uncivilized and unclean members of society. In 1882, under the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were banned for 61 years, underscoring the fears and stigma that have plagued immigrant communities across our nation. Lately, the acceleration of the coronavirus has echoed the long history of anti-Chinese racism in the West.