Bangkok Post

Stop racial discrimina­tion, fight the bug instead

- Nehginpao Kipgen Nehginpao Kipgen is a Political Scientist, Associate Professor, Assistant Dean and Executive Director at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of Internatio­nal Affairs, OP Jindal Global University.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways. Among the several implicatio­ns on humanity is the lesser talked about issue of racial or ethnic discrimina­tion which has inherent psychologi­cal impacts. The stigmatisa­tion of a certain race or ethnicity is quite unfortunat­e. Interestin­gly, racial discrimina­tion has been witnessed in the two largest democracie­s — the US and India.

In the US, President Donald Trump on March 18 referred to the coronaviru­s as the “Chinese virus”, insisting that using the term is “not racist at all”. “Because it comes from China,” he said at a press briefing.

The White House justified his comments by saying that a number of past pandemics are also known by their places of origin or where they were believed to have originated, such as the Spanish Flu, West Nile Virus, Zika and Ebola.

At the same briefing, Mr Trump also said that the Chinese government at one point were blaming American soldiers, who visited Wuhan last autumn, to be the source of the virus.

While Mr Trump has denied that there is any racial inclinatio­n, there have been several instances of Asian Americans being targeted verbally and physically over coronaviru­s fears.

Mr Trump’s comments have emboldened some of his associates and supporters, including conservati­ve media persons and Republican leaders despite being advised by the country’s health officials not to use xenophobic or racist terms in describing the virus.

Although not all Asian Americans are necessaril­y of Chinese descent, the discrimina­tion or stigmatisa­tion has affected all other minorities of the Mongoloid race in the US and beyond.

In response to Mr Trump’s comments, the executive director of the World Health Organisati­on’s emergencie­s programme, Mike Ryan, rightly said: “Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity, the colour of your skin or how much money you have in the bank. So it’s really important we be careful in the language we use lest it lead to the profiling of individual­s associated with the virus.”

India, the world’s largest democracy, has had its own problem of racial discrimina­tion. While it is not a new phenomenon, the spread of the coronaviru­s has once again flared up the stigmatisa­tion of people from the northeaste­rn region of the country, who mostly belong to the Mongoloid race.

While there is a certain level of tolerance and understand­ing toward the people from the Northeast, there are still many from the so-called “mainland India” who have considered people from the Northeast region, which is relatively backward both in terms of economy and infrastruc­ture, as outsiders or lesser citizens of the country, either due to ignorance or other discrimina­tory reasons.

Among many other incidents, a woman from the state of Manipur in Northeast India, filed a complaint at the police station in New Delhi on March 22 stating that she was spat on her face and called “corona” by a man.

Amid the increasing incidents of racial or ethnic stigmatisa­tion, especially toward people of the Northeast, the Indian government has advised the states and union territorie­s to take appropriat­e actions on individual­s or groups who engage in discrimina­tory activities, including racial harassment with regard to Covid-19.

It is not only the two largest democracie­s that have witnessed discrimina­tory remarks over the pandemic. On March 13, Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirak­ul said that European tourists pose a risk to his country. He criticised European tourists for not wearing face masks to protect against the virus and warned Thai people to be careful in dealing with the vacationin­g Europeans or Westerners “who wear dirty clothes and don’t shower”.

The minister made such provocativ­e remarks while being fully aware that the country’s tourism industry brings in a significan­t income for the country. While the minister had some good reasons to be concerned about the safety of the Thai people, his comments were inappropri­ate and unnecessar­y. It could have flared up sentiments against Westerners and subsequent­ly trigger retaliator­y actions from the European countries against Thais and other Asians.

Those leaders and people who have a racial segregatio­nary or discrimina­tory attitude toward certain sections or groups of people should remind themselves that a disease like Covid-19 has no boundary, race, ethnicity, and or nationalit­y. Everyone is susceptibl­e to the virus.

It is also important to note that there has yet to be a consensus on the cause of the virus, whether it is from animals — which was the initial theory — human error or a deliberate act of individual­s or leaders or government­s. While the world knows that it originated from China, there is also an unsubstant­iated theory of the possibilit­y that the virus was a deliberate or accidental use of a biological weapon.

Regardless, discrimina­tion or segregatio­n should not have a place in this globalised world of inter-connectedn­ess and dependence on each other. The world must stand together against the deadly virus rather than stigmatise each other over the place of origin and or its inhabitant­s. Collective efforts to fight the virus must be the top priority since the number of infected countries and deaths are surging by the day.

More importantl­y, everyone should realise no race or ethnicity is the majority everywhere. A majority group in one’s own country is a minority in another country or land. Racism has no place in a civilised society.

 ?? AFP ?? People pass a commercial street in the Chinese district of Milan. Several well-known figures from the Chinese community in Italy have denounced racism by Italians frightened by the coronaviru­s.
AFP People pass a commercial street in the Chinese district of Milan. Several well-known figures from the Chinese community in Italy have denounced racism by Italians frightened by the coronaviru­s.
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