By VICTORIA WHISKER

I still remember the disbelief I felt on March 19th 2020. I had just watched a music video by rap duo ‘Year of the Ox’ called Viral. The video addressed the rise in xenophobia due to the widespread fear around the virus. Specifically how violence escalated due to misinformation of Covid-19 being a virus that targets race.

Year of the Ox, led by Rick and John Lee, of Korean American descent got over 100,000 views. It expressed their feelings in reaction to the violence seen in America. You may be thinking this is just an American Issue, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Racism has been fuelled by fear and it is the real virus.

Finding an article in The Spinoff by Kiki Van Newtown titled ‘The real plague is xenophobia’ my fears were realised. New Zealand is not exempt from racism, although in our nations it is through anonymous emails and verbal abuse. Yet Newtown was hopeful that “when we pull back the curtain on these attitudes it gives us an opportunity to see the real damage and make plans to address it”. After being encouraged by increases in minority representation with films made by and starring Asians like Parasite, the rise in xenophobia related abuse feels like one step forward, two steps back.

The more I researched, the more the results were alarming. In Melbourne, my Wellington home equivalent, a case of physical abuse against two Asian female grocery shoppers waiting in a line. Verbal abuse sent by an anonymous email targeting Asian parents of Rolleston primary school in Canterbury telling them to not spread their germs. Then the Rotorua Daily reported that Councillor Mr. Wong in early January received death threats for publicly speaking out against the discrimination of race. That broke my heart.

Here’s the silver lining, Covid19 is the first of its kind to consciously not be named by the Wuhan province in China where it was first detected. This was announced by WHO on the 11 February 2020 is in an effort to reduce the racism that is attached to it. Together we can spread the truth that the virus does not target specific races and stop misinformation escalating to xenophobia.

Racism and xenophobia are spreading as well as the virus with those wearing masks being targeted. I understand that in our western cultures we are not used to seeing anyone wear a mask. But there is a huge misconception with distancing more from those wearing them. They are keeping you safe and are a sign of good hygiene.

In a new case in May a Melbourne woman said those wearing masks were disease carriers. Asians wearing face masks doesn’t give you the right to treat them like they are contagious. Let’s not let fear lead to misinformation. As we ease up on restrictions of community contact my hope for when we meet together again, is for us to meet as a united people.

Media has a huge role on how misinformation is spread, and in New Zealand we are not exempt from the blame. The RNZ article quoted above shows an example of solidifying ideas of what the virus looks like, when it shows pictures of Asians wearing masks in the airport. There has however been a call in the media to not use images that target race, as they could encourage views of xenophobia, if those are the images we are being subjected to in news articles.

Xenophobia is essentially a fear about outsiders to solidify a social order. The disease does not discriminate, so let’s be kind and give everybody the respect and dignity they deserve in these unprecedented times.

Victoria is a recent English Lit and Classical studies graduate and who loves all things words. Stands by her beliefs in ‘The whole story is the best story’, God and a dessert stomach.

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