If given the choice between carrying on daily life during a pandemic, at the expense of the most vulnerable, or lockdown with free food, treatment and essentials, it would appear favourable to choose the latter option.
Lockdown with free access to treatment only seems like a sensible option, whilst ‘herd immunity’ at the expense of the vulnerable only seems barbaric. Yet, this is exactly what the UK, the sixth richest country in the world, a nation considered ‘advanced’, proposed doing.
Conversely, Vietnam and other Eastern countries presented much more ethical responses to the pandemic.
Despite this, a prevalent racist agenda has been pushed forward. Social media is littered with images and videos of over-exaggerated eating practices, fuelling xenophobia and judgement of Eastern countries as foreign and ‘Other’.
Chinese businesses in the UK are struggling, and reports are surfacing of hate crimes and racist attacks. This is the devastating result of the propensity for Western countries to politicise pandemics and blame minority groups.
The act of attributing blame to a specific community is not a new habit across the West. The SARS outbreak in Canada similarly brought with it the social exclusion of racial minorities. After the Asian-Community was falsely deemed responsible for the outbreak, stigmatisation and xenophobic attitudes ensued.
Similarly, the Zika outbreak in Brazil caused many to blame globalisation. Once globalisation is seen as being at fault, anti-immigration attitudes can flourish and allow individuals to pursue a racist agenda.
The divide between the East and the West risks being heightened by the failure to acknowledge the economic advantage and privilege of many nations over less economically developed countries.
Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism is hugely applicable in the current climate. The theory suggests that the East is often regarded by the West as an uncivilised ‘Other’.
Racist stereotypes are frequently employed in news and social media to shock the consumer, while strategic language choices are employed to preserve the Orientalist view of the East as ‘foreign’ and ‘strange’.
For example, articles surrounding the origins of the Coronavirus regularly talk of China’s ‘Wet Markets’ and the unfamiliar (to the Western reader) food that is sold at these markets, such as live otters and badgers.
A video of a woman eating ‘bat soup’ was widely shared online to further incite the belief that Chinese eating habits are responsible for the outbreak of COVID-19, despite the fact this video was taken in Palau.
According to Said, as soon as the West believes the East to be fundamentally different, ‘the Orient cannot, by definition, be a point of empathy.’ This is where Orientalism becomes synonymous with dehumanisation.
Therefore, it is vital that the pandemic is not strongly associated with China, as Trump insists on doing. The US president’s repeated referral of the virus as the ‘Chinese Virus’ only serves to further stigmatise Asian communities.
This rife belief that the eating habits of certain Eastern countries are ‘wrong’ or worthy of judgement only showcases the double standards of the West. Cows, pigs, chickens and other animals are regularly eaten in Western countries and this is seen as acceptable.
On the other hand, the consumption of other animals is seen to be barbaric. The narrative that China is ‘unclean’ and practices archaic and out-grown eating habits fails to reflect the fact that many Chinese citizens strongly desire a change in the country’s food safety standards.
Essentially, the desire to blame the East for the pandemic and criticise the eating habits of some communities exudes hypocrisy. Whilst many were busy demonising China, British Citizens were advised by Boris Johnson to practice ‘herd immunity’ – despite being the exact opposite of advice given by the World Health Organization.
Had such an approach been proposed by Chinese officials, Westerners would be the first to target this as evidence of a backwards, primitive society.
Meanwhile, countries such as Vietnam and Cuba – those often viewed as regressive across the West – were handling the situation in a way which ensured that lives were prioritised.
Cuba has been providing aid to non-Cubans; even allowing a cruise ship to dock with confirmed Coronaviruses cases, despite carrying no Cubans onboard. What is ironic is that a pandemic ultimately propelled by the rich travelling overseas, is being attributed to a small minority of the less privileged.
The politically motivated responses of the UK and the US in comparison with the human-centred responses of Eastern countries, calls into question the notion of ‘advanced’ countries. Countries such as the UK and USA are quick to pass judgement on the East, despite being far from perfect themselves.
If a country in the East had suggested ‘herd immunity’ as Boris did, it would be widely criticised. Yet, when the UK proposes this response, many are too concerned with placing the blame of the pandemic on others to realise the barbarity of the suggestion.
Clearly, there are a multitude of damaging systematic flaws that need to be evaluated.
Ellie Baldwin is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration lawyers currently providing free legal advice to all NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
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