This particular TikTok started out as most bad TikToks do: a cop filming himself. He walks through the airport nonchalantly and pretends to run away in terror. The caption of the video stated “When ur at the airport and a flight from China arrives.”
These are the types of jokes I’ve been hearing about all over campus and seeing online. I’ve overheard people casually discussing how they got out of the elevator when they saw international Chinese students get on. I’ve seen racist memes about how people won’t be eating Chinese food anytime soon.
Not only are these types of jokes racist and not amusing, they are ultimately dangerous. More dangerous, in fact, than the virus itself.
Only two percent of cases have been fatal, and most of these deaths are attributed to old age and weak immune systems. As of this Tuesday, only 11 people in the U.S. have been confirmed to have contracted the virus. To put things in perspective, the common flu kills 60 times more people annually than the coronavirus, with around 34,000 American lives annually. But it doesn’t seem to be getting the same sort of attention.
What makes the coronavirus different?
The Hill published an article claiming that people are afraid of coronavirus because, “humans are wired to fear the unknown more than the evils they face every day.” But frankly, I don’t think this gets to the core of the issue at all.
People aren’t making jokes dehumanizing an entire race because they’re afraid of the unknown. They’re making these jokes because they are racist and xenophobic. This isn’t even the first time people have used the myth of a widespread disease to be racist against Asian communities.
This narrative started in the 1800s when white Americans began to perceive Chinese laborers as disease carriers, and then used this myth as a means to gain political power. Politicians got to office by running campaigns to ban Chinese people from immigrating to the U.S., and prohibiting Chinese Americans from gaining citizenship. White supremacists murdered hundreds of Chinese laborers with impunity.
This is why racist jokes exacerbating the panic around the coronavirus are ultimately more dangerous than the disease itself. Fear mongering creates hatred towards an entire group of people and can lead to violence, whether it be psychological or physical.
Multiple studies over the years have shown that racist jokes can lead to an increase in discrimination. Just this last month, some Asian American individuals claim to have experienced more incidents of racism since news of the virus broke.
Moreover, institutions meant to de-escalate the hysteria around the virus have only worsened it. The U.S. government required all non-emergency personnel to leave Wuhan. Even our own institution is guilty. Near the end of January, Boston University suspended study abroad trips in China.
Only 11 out of 327.2 million people in the U.S have contracted this virus. That’s a microscopic percentage. In contrast, over 5,000 people were victims of hate crimes in 2018. Panic over a virus that you most likely won’t contract or die from is not an excuse to be racist.
Frankly, nothing does, and to think making a TikTok ostracizing Asian people is harmless is dumb. Therefore, I rule that people who use the coronavirus as an excuse to be racist are cancelled until further notice.