• Our Words Matter

Coronavirus and Xenophobia: How safe do you feel reporting your ethnicity at the moment?

Written by Michelle Huang

How safe do you feel reporting your ethnicity at the moment? As someone who identifies as Chinese, it is absolutely frightening to think about the potential consequences of providing this information to schools, colleagues and/or HR.  

17 years ago, at the height of the SARS epidemic, a 7 year old Chinese girl watched in silence as her friend’s mum warned her friend to “stay away from the Asian kids at school” as “they carry diseases that will make you sick.” 17 years ago, at the height of the SARS epidemic, a 7 year old Chinese girl held back tears as her classmates taunted her with statements about “eating cats and dogs” and being “dirty and uncivilized.” 17 years ago, at the height of the SARS epidemic, a 7 year old Chinese girl lowered her head in shame as her teacher named all the students that had recently traveled to China. 

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, a wave of suppressed memories from when I was a child come flooding back. As I sit on a bus behind a mother and her child overhearing the same conversation about avoiding Chinese children that haunted me throughout my upbringing; as I avoid the stares and whispers of strangers down Queen Street; as I hear stories about young Chinese students being left without a home in New Zealand after their homestay parents refuse to let them stay (even after quarantine); as I read insensitive emails by Company HR demanding staff for information on their travel history and that of their family’s -- without any messages of compassion or condolence for what is going on in China; as irresponsible newspapers work overtime to spread unsupported conspiracies, hatred, fear and divide across the population; as I unsuccessfully circumvent the tsunami of Xenophobic comments across social media; I am painfully reminded that things are no different today than they were 17 years ago. If anything, the rise of social media to amplify racist sentiments has only makes today’s situation far worse than 17 years ago.

Despite the recent Chinese New Year decorations across banks and shopfronts, and despite the growing dumpling food trucks across New Zealand, xenophobia and resentment towards almost 1/5th of the World’s Population is still rife and ever-present. 

For those kids, parents, teachers and strangers who made me feel fearful, embarrassed and inferior for being Chinese 17 years ago, you likely don’t remember any of your words or actions, yet they have left unhealable wounds at the back of my mind.

So I urge everyone to please reconsider what you say around the workplace, the streets, at home, and on the internet. I urge you to please check what messages you are passing on to your children, friends and colleagues. And I urge you to please think about how permanent your words and actions of today may be for others. 


We have republished this article with Michelle's permission. Click here to read the article and find out more about Michelle. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coronavirus-enophobia-how-safe-do-you-feel-reporting-your-huang/



 Even when words don't seem enough, they matter. They help us create connections, make meaningful contributions and overcome some of the deep-seated issues facing our country.


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