THE B.1.617 mutant strain of Covid-19 has ravaged India in recent weeks – pushing the country to the brink of collapse.
But as the nation recovers from a deadly second wave, traces of the variant were discovered in 53 other countries.
This was not only devastating in terms of the spread of the virus itself – but for Asian people, a familiar challenge awaits.
Pandemic-induced racism has caused several hate crimes against Asian Americans.
The recent development in India has aggravated the racial climate and instigated anti-Indian sentiments, ultimately leading to racial violence and white ethnocentrism.
Many Asians are exposed to the onslaught of racism without avail, with over 1,800 cases of verbal abuse, harassment, and violent crimes committed between March to May. And the xenophobic outrage is only exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis in India.
Blaming other countries for the outbreak of disease has a long history. The blame for the causalities of a disease is usually on the political adversary. So, anti-Asian biases are emanations of China and America’s strained relationship after Obama’s Pivot Asia strategy and a product of the Trumpian Era.
The West views Asia as a single block rather than a continent encompassing multiple cultures and ethnicities.
As a result, there is a gross oversimplification of the cultures and nationalities. So, once the situation in India deteriorated, it created more opportunities for racial hostilities.
Journal de Montréal was accused of being responsible for fueling prejudice against the Indian community after posting a picture of Canadian president Justin Trudeau wearing Indian clothes alongside a quote saying “the Indian variant is here.”
The newspaper later posted an apology after widespread condemnation, saying it didn’t intend to offend anyone.
Journalist Arun Venugopal also pointed to a post about a woman from New Jersey who said, “Edison or New Jersey shouldn’t become another India” and advised the residents of Edison and New Jersey to avoid Indian communities.
Many South Asians in Quebec and Ontario were told, “go back to your country,” and “this is all your fault,” on numerous occasions since the news about India broke out.
Despite strict guidelines by WHO, countries continue to label the new Covid-19 variant as the “Indian variant” – though in some countries such as the UK, the term ‘Delta’ is used.
Using geographic location and cultural markers to identify a disease causes racial scapegoating. And some ethnicities or cultural groups are disproportionately targeted, and the focus is shifted from resolving or preventing the outbreak and instead put on fueling racial violence.
There is also an implicit bias within the journalism industry; news about the Kent variant was hardly given as much attention as the Indian one; indeed, it is due to the degree of “foreignness” that India represents than the UK.
The fear and precariousness experienced by Asians today parallel the Ebola hysteria from 2014.
“The color of their skin and their accents makes them a target, even though they never came into contact with Duncan, and therefore pose zero risk. It doesn’t matter: they’re dark-skinned and foreign,” Arielle Duhaime-Ross wrote for The Verge during the Ebola hysteria.
The quote by Arielle Duhaime-Ross highlights the structural racism that reinforces the colonial hierarchy. By allowing racial scapegoating, countries contribute to othering of Africa, Asia and other places that once resided under colonial rule.
Racializing virus is a failure of policies at home, and the chaos caused by B.1.617 mutant is yet another example of that.
Exotically naming viruses stigmatizes and unfairly puts racial and ethnic communities at risk. Therefore, we must examine all of our actions from the perspective of those most vulnerable during times of crisis — people of colour.
Bhavika Malik is a freelance journalist and a student based in Salt Lake City. She usually writes about cultural criticisms and politics.
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