Don’t let coronavirus memes fuel xenophobia

By Carson Lewis | Page One Editor

The outbreak of coronavirus has people frightened, reasonably or not. Despite the fact that the virus is likely only to kill those who are already frail, such as the elderly or the sick, many Americans are reaching levels of fear resembling the terror seen during the past decade’s Ebola outbreak.

This fear has been amplified by the confirmation of several cases in the United States. Some have taken this concern and used it for lighthearted means: creating memes and jokes about the spreading virus.

Some of these memes have taken a more “racial” focus, showing people avoiding Chinese people in a reference to the disease’s origin in Wuhan province, China. Some of these posts have popped up on Baylor-specific meme accounts, giving a local twist on a phenomenon happening across the states.

However harmless these jokes may seem, they have the potential to be used in a discriminatory or racist manner. This concern has a historical basis, as the West Africa Ebola virus’ spread led to discriminatory actions in the United States against those who visited or originated from Africa.

Dr. Allison Aiello, professor and social epidemiology program leader in the department of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote a blog post titled “Ebola as an instrument of discrimination:”

“Indeed, children of Senegalese descent in New York City were recently beaten and called ‘Ebola’ by their peers, yet school authorities refused to call the incident more than a schoolyard fight. A teacher in Kentucky was recently forced to resign after frightened parents claimed she could transmit Ebola to their children after a mission trip to Kenya, a country that has reported no Ebola cases and is thousands of miles away from West Africa.”

Physical assault is not on the same level as what is being propagated today, but the basis is there. The jokes may ingrain a discriminatory attitude toward people of Asian descent — whether they be international students whose families still reside within China, or students from the States who may have never set foot on a continent outside of North America.

I worry specifically for the international student population who may already be in many ways separated from the Baylor community, by language barrier or cultural roadblocks. They may begin to face harassment, in varying forms of intensity, if the media fear over coronavirus heightens.

The best thing for now, in my opinion, is to be aware of how such humor may affect those around us at Baylor. Before liking or sharing this content, think carefully about how such content may be used maliciously, or in a way that may intensify racial tensions.

Carson is a sophomore journalism news-editorial major from Phoenix.