BUILDING BRIDGES: Racism spreading much faster than coronavirus

Perhaps we’re focusing on the wrong disease, writes our columnist, Taslim Jaffer

‘Do you know how the coronavirus started?” my husband asked. “From someone eating a bat.”

“What? Someone ate a bat?” My brows furrowed as I thought about this.

In my head, a scene played out where someone was hiking through the woods, came across a bat, killed it and ate it raw.

I have since learned that bats are a delicacy in other parts of the world. My immediate reaction was telling of the cultural context I live in. Nobody I know eats bats – I didn’t even know they could be eaten or how – so my imagination came up with a story.

But quickly following that bizarre story my brain concocted was this thought: I have never eaten pigs even though many people I know do. I understand that in their world, it’s OK to eat pigs. Likewise, although I have abstained from beef for much of my adult life and have been an on-again, off-again chicken eater (currently ‘off,’ in case you are wondering), I haven’t thought it was ‘weird’ for people to eat cows and chickens because I was raised in a culture that was OK with it.

Why are we OK with certain animals being eaten over others? Who are we to judge others about eating particular animals when we consume cows (a forbidden meat in the Hindu religion) and pigs (a forbidden meat in the Jewish and Muslim faiths)? That’s a lot of people who don’t eat cows and pigs. Why are we even OK supporting an industry that is directly related to animal cruelty and the destruction of the Earth’s resources, affecting our climate, but we are disgusted by someone eating a bat?

READ ALSO: WHO declares global emergency over coronavirus

From what I understand, people are arguing that wild animals are more dangerous to eat than farmed animals. However, people have gotten sick – even fatally ill – from eating farmed animals.

Piggybacking on those thoughts was this: There is going to be some crazy backlash now against the Chinese community. First, they’ll be blamed and then they’ll be shunned. This happened during the 2003 SARS outbreak which also started in China, and it’s happening now.

Thanks to social media, racist comments are spreading faster than any virus. On Facebook, Twitter, TikTok…you will find comments about people eating wild animals and infecting the rest of the world, and you will see people demanding that Chinese people be quarantined. The silent show of racism also takes place when people frequent Chinese restaurants and stores less often or move away from Chinese-looking people in public places, like on the bus.

READ ALSO: Keep calm and wash your hands: B.C. pharmacist’s tips on coronavirus prevention

Not all viruses become ‘racialized.’ When I mentioned farmed animals causing people to get sick, I was specifically thinking about mad cow disease which affected mostly the UK. I didn’t hear anybody giving the Brits a hard time for it. The H1N1 flu virus wasn’t racialized; its origin was North America. Why is it when something comes out of China or parts of Africa (like Ebola) it becomes about the people and the place of origin?

In addition to the myths about what the actual virus is doing, how many people are dying from it, how one should protect oneself, there are some really harmful ideas floating around that are just as scary as a disease we haven’t yet eradicated.

Malcolm X likened racism to a ‘tumour that is malignant in the body of America.’ Maybe we are not focusing on the right disease.

Editor’s note: According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the source of the coronavirus has not yet been conclusively identified.

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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