Will Racist Reactions To Covid-19 Deepen The Divide Between Races In International Politics?

A Detailed Analysis

Will Racist Reactions To Covid-19 Deepen The Divide Between Races In International Politics?
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Around the world, people are experiencing unprecedented difficulties as a result of the widely spread virus named Covid-19. The virus, of which there is no cure or vaccine at this time, has killed over 250,000 people since it emerged just a few months ago. The first case is thought to have been in Wuhan, China on the 17th of November 2019. This has led to a number of reactions to the virus being based on outdated and racist perceptions that have put many blameless people at risk of hate crimes. The short-term effects of this are evident in the hate speech and actions toward Asian people in both the media and in person. In the long term, the increase in paranoia and xenophobia surrounding people from China since the start of the pandemic can lead to deeper divides between races in international politics which is deepened by the negative media

This is an interesting question to analyse because it is founded on theory and statistical predictions rather than certain facts. The growing negative mindset against non-white people in America has contributed toward the negative reaction American people have had toward Asian people since the outbreak began. The modern-day political atmosphere includes a number of either extreme right-wing or extreme left-wing figures who all have an opinion to share about everything. This can lead to sudden changes in public opinion at any time leaving the future of politics nearly unpredictable. Despite this, what is evident is an increase in racist or racially insensitive beliefs as Republican views are growing more popular. Statistics from a survey issued by Pew Research Centre suggest that 31% of Republicans believe that the US has gone too far with giving black or non-white people equal rights to white people. Furthermore, the study shows that 77% of Republicans believe that the biggest problem when it comes to racial discrimination is people seeing discrimination where it does not exist. Although the study was based on American feelings toward black people, it can still be applied to all non-white communities as they are all highly targeted groups when it comes to racial discrimination.

The current American president, Donald Trump, is known for his extreme right-wing beliefs as well as his usage of social media platforms to express them. Often, Americans cite their first amendment right of freedom of speech as an excuse for spreading discriminatory messages online. For example, a news article was posted on Twitter talking about how the presence of racism in Michigan protests against the Covid-19 shut-down was a reason why it was stopped. A response from a white person on Twitter was “Shameful. It was a group of Michigan citizens exercising their Inherent Rights recognized by the US Constitution. These included 1A Rights to Freedom of Speech & Right to Peaceably Assemble & 2A Right to Bear Arms & MI open carry laws. Gov Wittmer is a shameful race baiter.” The current administration is doing nothing to stop this as the messages being spread are similar to those that the republican party advocates for. The fact that such opinions are being encouraged is part of the reason why the divide between races in international politics is so prominent; if a country’s leader is openly racist, why should non-white countries accommodate them? In addition to this, leaders are supposed to be the face of the group they are representing so, if the face is racist, the automatic assumption by other countries is that a majority of the group will also be racist. This stereotype of America in particular, however true it is at the moment, is what is stopping progress toward equality around the world and especially in international politics.

President Donald Trump’s racist beliefs have also contributed toward the division between races in the form of social media hysteria. Although it is true that Covid-19 first became known in China, it is not yet known exactly where it originated. There have been many theories on the subject, including the consumption of bats by a Chinese citizen, a US soldier bringing the virus to China, and that it was engineered by the Chinese as biological warfare, however none of these theories have been verified. Despite this, the virus has been dubbed the ‘Chinese Virus’ by a number of people, Donald Trump included. The World Health Organisation tried to stop the targeted nickname, however Trump and many other Republicans refused to call it by its official name. In one tweet, Donald Trump said “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!” While this tweet may appear harmless initially, it helps spread racist thoughts by associating China and Chinese people with something that negatively affects the US. When the term ‘Chinese Virus’ is repeatedly used in negative contexts, people automatically begin to think negatively when they hear the words ‘China’ or ‘Chinese’. When they then see someone from China, or are talking to them online, they will be more likely to treat them differently and negatively because they have been conditioned into thinking anything to do with China is wrong.

The media has also been used extensively during this pandemic to spread false or harmful information about Covid-19. Many exaggerated articles have been written to try and gain clickbait, and often times these articles try to offer new and shocking information, knowing that people will be interested. Even when these articles have nothing specifically to do with China, publications are more likely to show an image of a Chinese person in the article than any other group. An example of this is when The Wall Street Journal used an image of a group of Asian people in a Tweet promoting a story about how to handle air travel in America. This is because China has become a symbol for the virus as governments want to keep people focused on how it started instead of how it is being handled. This is even more harmful than giving the virus a nickname, as it instead gives the virus a face. What do you do with the face of something that kills thousands of people? You hate it. The repercussions of this are that people will continue to have negative feelings toward Asian people into the future, and this will cause a divide between white people and Asian people similar to that of the divide between white people and black people.

Another highly damaging addition to the Covid-19 scaremongering came from some tweets by US Senator Tom Cotton. Near the start of the epidemic, (in January), Cotton tweeted a message to all Americans in China telling them to get out of the country right then. At a time in which the halting of all unnecessary travel was most crucial, Cotton seemed to want everyone to leave the then most infected country and return to the US. More than that though, his reasons behind the message was not out of concern for fellow Americans, it was part of a larger message to try and place the blame of the virus entirely on China. Cotton then tweeted, “I would note that Wuhan (the province where the ailment was first reported) has China’s only biosafety level-four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus,”. This was a clear target against China by insinuating, without offering any evidence, that they had intentionally engineered a virus that has now killed over 250,000 people. His claims that they had the means to create the virus are similar to how many Americans have the means to shoot innocent people because they own guns but that does not mean they are actually going to do it.

The repercussions negative media that suggest China intentionally created the virus have the potential to be very severe. The fact that people are becoming more prejudiced toward Asian people just because that was where the virus started is bad enough. If enough people believe that it was intentional, the discrimination could get even worse. In the short-term this is likely to cause more race-based discrimination online and, when social distancing orders begin to lift, this could start physical attacks against Asian people. In the long term, this virus is set to be one of the defining features of 2020; if an automatic association every time someone brings it up is that it was China’s fault, this could cause an on-going rift between white people and Asian people.

The divide between races in international politics is set to increase even further during a time in which everyone should be agreeing that it is a tragic event that we should all be doing our best to stop. The world went down a similar path with black people when they became stereotypically associated with violent crime even though there are no firm facts to prove that. For example a tweet by user @d_Alfonsino said “Because it’s true, black people are full of hatred and commit violent crime at a disproportionate rate.” It is simple statements like this that are now being made about black people that means that if spreading the virus becomes a defining stereotype of Asian people, it will be proven that white people in particular will do anything to prove that they are the superior race.

Despite this, the likelihood that Covid-19 does deepen the divide between races in international politics is high as politicians will do anything to please their constituents so that they will get re-elected. For example, Donald Trump is claiming to be doing a good job with Covid-19 (even though he isn’t), just because he knows that an election is coming up. This means that if public opinion toward Chinese people remains so negative, this will likely be reflected in future decisions made by politicians.


• Twitter.com- Tweets from politicians and newspapers were used as evidence of racist reactions to Covid-19

• Huffpost.com- Information about Senator Tom Cotton’s reaction to Covid-19

• Themarysue.com- information about racist reactions to Covid-19

• Pewsocialtrends.org- stats about American opinions about racism

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Charlotte Elliott
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