For the past few weeks, my days have consisted of art and writing projects, sleeping, and browsing on my phone. Between this and doing chores and cooking, I’d say my schedule is “fully booked”. This has become the new norm during the Coronavirus outbreak. If you would have told me in December that the world would be facing a pandemic a few months later, I would have been in disbelief. It seems like ages ago that I was attending lectures at uni, going to comedy club workshops, and going to the pub with my friends on the weekends. My life, like the lives of so many others, has changed drastically. While I miss my long walks around Glasgow and it can be a bit bothersome to stay in the house all day, that annoyance is nothing compared to what NHS and other essential workers have to go through, so I am grateful for that. However, in my few weeks of lockdown/self isolation, I have learned so many things about myself (and the projects I’ve neglected over the years), and my relationships with others and it has been great to see how people are coming together in this stressful time.
That’s not to say it’s been perfect though.
On Saturday, my boyfriend Cameron and I had just finished watching another episode of Doctor Who (we’re blowing our way through the series during lockdown) when I got a text from my friend Lily. She had texted me and my other friend Kiran on our group chat with a question I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.
She asked us what we would do if we encountered racism.
For some context, Lily is from Taiwan and Kiran is from Glasgow and is South Asian (these aren’t their real names). And yes, I’m white, so I haven’t ever experienced anything like what I am about to tell you. Some people might say I shouldn’t comment on this as a white person, but as a person, regardless of whether or not I’m white, I think I have a right to say what I think is wrong. And I think what I’m about to tell you is very wrong.
Lily was asking this question for her friend, a student studying in England who is from Malaysia. Lily explained that her friend had encountered racism three times:
- Someone shouting “corona” at her
- Coughing right at her face and walking away
- Taking a walk with her flatmate in a public park and being asked to leave while there were many other people jogging and playing
The first thing I thought of was an article I saw a month ago—a student from Singapore was attacked by a gang of people in London who said “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country”. I can think several things that are just factually wrong with that sentence (aside from the racism): 1. COVID-19 originated in China, not Singapore, and 2. if you were afraid of contracting the virus from the guy, why would you get closer to him to attack him? But anyway…
I replied to Lily saying that it was disappointing to see people acting that way and that it must be scary for her friend. Lily said she was stressed walking outside and that if she were in that situation, she would want to fight back and report it, but unsure if it would be better to just ignore the racist and accusatory comments about having coronavirus for safety’s sake. Kiran agreed said to tell the police. After some discussion, Lily resolved to only fight back physically if necessary and report to the police if it happened to her. We sent a few more texts and said goodnight, as it was 2 in the morning and I was exhausted, but it got me thinking.
I have already stated that I can’t speak from experience, but I feel so sorry for anyone who has to worry about this (regardless of the Coronavirus or not, this situation does happen to people and this situation in particular drew my attention to everyday racism). If I were in a situation like that I would want to fight back too, but I would hate to see my friend put herself in a dangerous situation. Lily also said her friend in was planning to fly home to Malaysia in a few weeks. At least her friend will be safe with her family, I thought. But, really, why should it come to that? It’s sad that someone should have to fear for their safety, change their travel plans, potentially putting themselves at risk, just because someone else thinks that their “race” is any indication that they are “infected”.
Speaking as an international student, it can be an overwhelming experience to begin with being so far from home in a different culture. Add a global pandemic, travel restrictions, and food shortages to being far from home and it’s not exactly an easy situation for anyone. And if you’re like Lily’s friend, racist threats and fearing for your general safety are just another thing to worry about on top of all the other things I just mentioned.
I know I’m just stating an obvious fact, that racism is bad. But in a time where everyone is stressed and possibly alone and vulnerable, the last thing anyone should have to worry about is being ridiculed and in dangerous situations because of your “race” or where you are from.
We’re already scared of this virus, don’t let it make us fear each other.
While texting Lily and Sophia, we also spoke about helplines and I found a link for one. I’ll include it here if anyone needs it: https://www.stophateuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Stop-Hate-UK-%C2%AD-Coronavirus-Statement-and-Advice-for-Helpline-Areas_Email.pdf
I hope everyone is doing okay! FT