COLUMN: News flash: The Coronavirus outbreak doesn’t excuse racist behavior.

As the Coronavirus outbreak has spread, so have offensive and racist memes.

Keara Shannon is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about entertainment and racial issues.

On Jan. 24, the world was first informed about the discovery of a new virus related to SARS and MERS as it began to spread around Wuhan, China. It was called the Coronavirus, named after the word “corona” in Latin which means crown, the shape of the spikes on its surface.

There is no cure for the virus as of yet, and it is spreading rapidly around not only China but the world as well. Though a majority of the cases have been found in China, those infected have been confirmed in the U.S., Japan, Sweden, Australia, Spain and more according to CNN. It has infected more than 73,000 people worldwide and killed at least 1,800 as of Feb. 18.

As the virus becomes a larger threat, panic has begun to ensue and people are taking many precautions. Even at MU, students were sent an email on Jan. 28 informing them that so far, there have not been any cases on campus or in Missouri in general, but it is being closely monitored. As more and more cases are confirmed and the death toll rises, social media has been booming with memes and jokes about this epidemic.

This is not the first time that social media has tried to make light of situations as alarming as this. After a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s Qassem Soleimani and Iran vowed to get their revenge, Twitter, in particular, went insane.

“WW3” trended for days on end, but the hashtag was not filled with people panicking, but rather reaction videos and tweets finding the humor in such a situation. People joked about being drafted into the military, women satirically embraced fitting into the old school housewife role in order for them not to be drafted and people that called themselves feminists “revoked” this status in order to not be enlisted as well.

Even then, people debated on whether or not this was appropriate or downright ignorant considering the weight that a world war has and the damage that it could do to the people of the Middle East.

Having seen those tweets, I see no problem in trying to make light of a situation that makes many people anxious. However, with situations where people could die, I may chuckle at some things, but ultimately it makes me uncomfortable (let’s not get started on the 9/11 and school shooting jokes Twitter loves to crack at).

Since the war was hypothetical, those jokes do not impact me as much as something that does kill people each day, such as the Coronavirus. What makes me even more uncomfortable is the blatant racism and prejudice that Asians as a whole have had to deal with because of it.

This brings me back to high school when the Ebola jokes were at their prime and people shunned or taunted those who were from Africa or even traveled to Africa. My peers with darker complexions were more susceptible to those jokes than those with lighter skin tones and it made me realize how quickly people were to jump on these jokes just to be able to be so racist. Tweets about the Coronavirus that have me scratching my head get thousands of likes and those who like them do not think of their problematic implications.

On social media, Asian people are all linked together as immediately having the virus no matter what their country of origin is. South Korean boy group BTS is a subject of many of these jokes. A tweet stating, “Everyone at the Grammys when BTS starts coughing,” accompanied by a clip of reality star Tiffany Pollard screaming and trying to run away from something not shown in the frame went viral; it has 22,000 likes and 85,000 retweets and counting.

American rapper and songwriter Kash Doll recently came under fire for a recent Instagram post. The post was of a photo of the Disney princesses all wearing face masks except for Mulan, the words “Sorry ‘MULAN’ but we never know” written at the top. She wrote in the caption “In the airport like.” The post has since been deleted. These instances are just a few of the many posts going around on social media.

Even if their country of origin is China, it is immensely ignorant and offensive to automatically assume a person has the virus. Ironically, we have a greater chance of contracting and dying from the flu than the Coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, “Worldwide, the flu causes up to 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and kills up to 650,000 people every year.”

The Coronavirus is a small road bump compared to other diseases and illnesses found around the world, yet people don’t talk about those as much. Unfortunately, so many people have passed away from this illness, there’s no need to worry. You’ll be okay. Take a deep breath.

Anyone who tries to speak up against these jokes is immediately labeled as sensitive or has no sense of humor. People love to use the excuse that joking is how people deal with anxiety, and what I say to that is that there should be a difference between joking and downright being ignorant. When people losing their lives daily is used to discriminate against a marginalized group of individuals, I think that is when we need to step back and reflect on ourselves as humans.

News flash: The Coronavirus outbreak doesn’t excuse racist behavior.

Edited by Bryce Kolk |

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