Hello all! This has been an interesting break from school to say the least. From reading the news about the spreading virus and its global impact, I thought that Edward Said’s novel, Orientalism, tied perfectly into the current state of the world.
Orientalism is essentially the lens in which the West looks through at the East. Throughout history, it has been seen that the East is portrayed as the “other”, seeming to be far different from Western society. Orientalism, therefore has made it very easy for prejudices in the West to be formed against the East.
We all are aware that Covid-19 can be traced back to Wuhan, China; with many sources pointing to the large animal market in the city as being the epicenter of the virus. At the beginning of the outbreak, when the virus was primarily only seen in Wuhan, I saw many disturbing posts directed towards marginalizing and blaming Chinese people. For example, there were images surfacing of a woman eating bat soup (presumably in China), and without even knowing the source of the photo I heard people were BLAMING the virus on that one woman/the people in China eating bat soup. In addition to this, The President also stated in one of his tweets that this was a “Chinese Virus”. Although yes, the origin of the virus was in China, placing such a name on the virus only leads to racism and discrimination! (There are many more examples of racism I saw online, these just stood out the most to me).
For starters, blaming anything on a group of people/race marginalizes that group from the “western” society we are used to. This in effect leads to mass racism. Asian-American’s are coming out online saying that non-Asian people literally walk away from them on the streets… as if they somehow automatically have the virus for looking a certain way? Unbelievable.
I have seen many people post and make racial jokes/comments about the virus, when most of the time, the people making the comments are simply not educated on the topic. It is heartbreaking to see this happening because this is a time when we all need to support one another. People are being hateful towards Chinese people without realizing all that the Chinese have done to try and minimize the spread of this virus. Instead of spreading hate during this difficult time, we should lift one another up and talk about all the good things that are being done around the world to stop this pandemic.
Overall, my question is: would the world look different if this virus originated in Italy? Would people be avoiding “Little Italy” as they were “China Town” in Chicago?
I hope everyone ruminates upon this, and thinks twice about a racial comment they may choose to say. The entire world is suffering, so again, let us take our orientalist glasses off, and appreciate all that is being done to help stop this virus.
6 thoughts on “If Covid-19 Began in Italy…”
I’m with you, Asta. And I think you got at the core insight of Said’s concept of Orientalism. It is a psychological problem — a racist mindset that the West has unconsciously developed over centuries through art, literature, “science,” etc — and it is so deeply embedded in our culture that is part of all of us, no matter how enlightened we think we are. One of the most powerful parts of the video interview with Said is when he talks about how even people who have actually traveled to the Middle East can’t break out of their Orientalist perspective and interpret all that is around them through that lens.
It’s so, so important in times of crisis to evaluate our prejudices — because when we are just reacting or panicking, we will fall back unthinkingly into our own comfortable views of the world. And I think the viral nature of social media exacerbates that human tendency to an unprecedented degree — giving way too much play to the conspiracy theories and the racist rhetoric of the President.
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I love this post. I think everything you stated was needed to be said. I have also seen plenty of posts about the virus and attempting to connect it to race which just makes no sense. A virus doesn’t have a race, a gender, nor an ethnicity – it is a VIRUS. It can start with someone of a certain race but it is not embedded in their blood or transferred by race. I love the way you connected this to Orientalism. Westerners have a very different culture from Easterners and often when a culture is different from ones own, it is seen as “weird” or “bad”. I liked your question of how if the virus originated anywhere else, specifically Italy, would that race be receiving the same hate and prejudice as asians are. I personally think it wouldn’t which is the sad part. I think that asians have been a target of prejudice in America long before the coronavirus outbreak. Their culture is very different from Western culture and is thus seen as weird. Asians are part of the minority when in America so I think that it was easy for Westerners to pin all the blame onto the Chinese. I wish this time brought the best out of people and made the world more peaceful since truly the world needs it right now, but it seems to be making everyone hate and show their true colors.
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I completely agree with you here, this time is truly showing people’s colors and how quick people are to judge others. Eastern culture is extremely different than Western, and I think that we should all make an effort to try and understand their culture, rather than dismiss it as “weird” simply because it is different from what we are used to.
Thank you for your post it was really thought-provoking! The general lack of empathy towards China in the midst of this epidemic has been really sad to me. It’s like there is a disconnect between America and China that makes it feel less real to people when it is China as opposed to Italy. I think this disconnect is part of the reason for the anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiments that have popped up since COVid-19 came on the scene. Instead of feeling compassion for China and trying to show their support as people have done for Italy people responded with fear.
I think it also leads to a rise in conspiracy theories. I have taken a degree of amusement (and horror) in watching people play the blame game. Some people in the USA have been claiming it was a Chinese government experiment gone wrong while some chinese netizens have been claiming that the virus was created by the US government and purposefully released in China. It honestly reminds me of how in the middle ages the colloquial name for syphilis was often reflective of political/social tensions. For example, the Dutch called it “The Spanish Disease” and comically the French called it “The Italian Disease” while the Italians called it “The French Disease”!
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Exactly! Thank you for your comment! I did not know that about syphilis, but sadly I am not surprised. I wish things were different, and that people were kinder to one another in times like these. Also, I too have been hearing SO many conspiracy theories. It is crazy to see people believing them because there has actually been a lot of research done that now shows that the virus was NOT manufactured in a lab.
yeah, Since I am a Chinese, I appreciate that you can treat this issue fairly. I just wanna point out that we have a long history of eating strange things, but we also have complete laws for preventing the emerging of the virus. Like selling living bats is ILLEGAL, some crazy people eat those things to show their stupid manhood. The bat soup we drink is all dry goods which are considered as medicine and they are edible. We never encourage people to eat wild animals and most of the big cities serve normal food, so don’t worry about food safety in China. Feel free to travel to China, but not now! XD
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