February 5, 2020
As fears of the new coronavirus spread around the world, so do racist attacks and stereotypes targeting people of Asian descent, with many South Koreans overseas reporting having experienced discrimination.
Korean chef and popular YouTuber Gabie Kook, who lives in the UK, said she experienced racism while dining out with some Korean friends.
“So we were just eating and the waiter came up and asked us if we were Chinese,” she said in a video on her YouTube channel. “There are lot of people who have asked me that before. So I said, ‘Oh no, we are Korean.’”
The waiter said: “Oh you know, I was worried because of the virus. But aren’t Korea and China really close?”
When Kook answered that Korea and China were indeed close, the waiter angered the group even further by saying, “It’s close anyway, so aren’t you the same?”
“Because of that question, I was fine until that point but everything got so awkward,” she said. “I thought people could easily make those judgments the moment they see us. So I got very uncomfortable.”
Kook is not alone in feeling uncomfortable lately. Many victims of the new respiratory disease have never been anywhere near Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus is believed to have originated. In fact, a growing number of people from the Asian diaspora in Europe and America are facing xenophobic remarks due to the color of their skin.
The death toll from the new coronavirus, officially called the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCov, is 490 in mainland China, with one additional fatality in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. There are now 24,505 confirmed cases across more than 25 countries around the world, stoking fears about growing anti-Asian sentiment.
Tottenham Hotspur’s striker Son Heung-min also became a target on social media Sunday, for coughing during an interview after the team’s victory against Manchester City.
When the Korean striker, who scored the decisive second goal during the game, coughed a little during an interview with fellow teammate Steven Bergwijn, people took it as an opportunity to make racial slurs online. “When he coughed, I felt the coronavirus,” one user said. Others said, “Son is spreading corona.” Another said, “Steven will be infected with virus now.”
One Korean man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was riding a train in Germany, where he has lived for more than 10 years, when some teenagers called him a “virus” and made racist remarks while coughing loudly, thinking he couldn’t understand German.
“I am becoming hyperaware of my ethnicity even more these days,” said Kim Jung-in, a 35-year-old Korean who lives in the US. “I feel like even a little cough or sneeze is eliciting attention at some places I go.”
Major institutions are also facing criticism for discriminatory practices.
Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory, one of the oldest and most prestigious music institutes in the world, is under fire for telling students of “oriental” descent — specifically Chinese, Japanese and Koreans — not to come to class until they had undergone a mandatory doctor visit confirming they didn’t have the virus.
UC Berkeley, a US university known for its sizable Asian population of around 30 percent, is facing backlash after an offensive Instagram post on its University Health Services account.
Last week, the center released a post listing “xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about those feelings” as a “common reaction” to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Please recognize that experiencing any of these can be normal,” the school wrote in the post, including other possible reactions, such as “social withdrawal,” “anger” and “panic.”
Following the outcry, the post was deleted and the school apologized for “any misunderstanding it may have caused.”
People online are calling for an end to prejudice against people of Asian descent, with the hashtag “I am not a virus” circulating online.