Orientalism, Racism, and the Coronavirus Pandemic

On March 14th in Midland, Texas, an Asian-American family was brutally attacked and stabbed in a Sam’s Club store by a man because “he thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus,” (ABC News). This is just one example of many hate crimes against Asian-Americans have occurred in the United States and around the world.

In addition to this, President Trump has repeatedly, and purposely, referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus”, which only further amplifies prejudice against Asian-Americans during this time.

These examples of racism towards Asian-Americans can be considered as modern Orientalism, which is still very present in the United States and around the globe.

Orientalism is defined as the belief among Europeans and Americans that Arab and Asian societies are “exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous” (Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes).

As defined, both the man who attacked the family in Sam’s Club, as well as President Trump, who referrers to the coronavirus in an incorrect and racist manner, are examples of how Orientalism is present today, during a global pandemic.

Orientalism is not dead, and it never has been. During this time of global crisis and at all other times, it is important to destroy these racist stereotypes that Asian-Americans are currently living with, as they are in fear for their lives. During this period of uncertainty, it is essential that everyone from around the globe stands together as one in order to defeat both the coronavirus, and the racism that is incorrectly being associated with this pandemic.

7 thoughts on “Orientalism, Racism, and the Coronavirus Pandemic

  1. Simone P

    I like your post Meenah. When I first saw that image of Trump’s speech with the word Corona crossed out and replaced with Chinese, I assumed it was an image from The Onion. However, the fact that it’s real makes us remember that Orientalism is still a thing even in locations of extreme power. Even before Trump, senators, presidents, and CEOs acted in a racist manner through the laws, bills, and programs they send through. One of the major differences for these people, now that Trump has created a new precedent, is that they have seen someone successful in power explicitly being racist without punishment. Now, I believe, these lawmakers and CEOs, who have been quietly perpetuating that oriental culture, will feel emboldened to do so more.

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  2. Micah D

    It’s so crazy to me how racism and xenophobia is so prominent in our culture that is so easy to sport hateful and ignorant comments by just turning on the news or listening to the president. It’s so heartbreaking, and very true that Orientalism is very much alive and people are so quick to find a scapegoat when bad things happen.

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  3. JONAH O

    It’s kinda hard to accept that people can be driven to do so many horrific things if pushed by fear. Like the ability to KILL someone not just that a family. Because they are scared of a disease. or the self entitled ment someone might have that they think they are saving millions by killing someone who might have never been to china. This is absurd.

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  4. Meenah, you make powerful connections between the historical and cultural study of these stereotypes and our present world.

    And thanks for pointing us to that great website on “Dismantling Arab Stereotypes.” I hadn’t seen that before, and I think I’m going to use it in future years. It is a very comprehensive site that goes beyond Orientalism, but its page on Orientalism is quite good. I hope you don’t mind that I went in and added a link to it in your post: http://arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism

    And secondly, your calling out of Trump is very appropriate in this context. That image of him crossing out “Corona” and inserting “Chinese” is so amazingly revealing. I had seen it before, but the discussion here made me do a double-check on one of my favorite fact checking sites, Snopes. And yeah, it’s real: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/trump-chinese-virus-notes/ …. Unfortunately, it gets add to an endlessly growing list of outrages.

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  5. mayap

    This is a fantastic analysis. The racist and discriminatory things that are going around surrounding the coronavirus pandemic are horrible and more and more people need to be standing up and saying something about how wrong this is. When I heard Donald Trump being pressed by a reported about why he calls it the chinese virus and he refused to call it anything else and understand how horrible it is, I was disgusted. We really do need to come together to fight this, not set people against each other and blame others.

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  6. Iris J

    When Trump called it the “Chinese virus” I was appalled and so mad. It’s so ridiculous how ignorant AND arrogant the world can be and having a world leader be so blatantly racist is terrifying. It makes me worried for my other relatives when they come to the states from China– I think that even after the world resumes, it will still be like walking on egg-shells for many East Asians.

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  7. Lily D

    This is a very interesting take, I didn’t recognize all of the orientalism going on with the Corona virus. The virus definitely has opened a lot of problems with the United States and it is giving people an excuse to have such hatred and prejudice.

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