Most of my Asian friends have quietly reminded me — sometimes for years — that they face racism similar to any other ethnic minority. I was never openly dismissive about it, but, like all majority members, I did tend to write it off as, “There’s a bit of difference between being targeted by Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policies, and being subjected to the occasional racist comment.”

Then I got cancer, and was banished from my precious majority demographic post, and learned that minimizing others’ pain is the first indication of prejudices. Still, I never thought the whole “yellow menace” thing was this bad, until a pandemic struck, and my social media feeds went off with insane, dog-deafening racism. I’ve become aware of ableism now that I’m routinely subjected to it, but, before I had a limp, I wasn’t aware it was this bad. Similarly, until I saw “coronavirus” crossed out on Presidential Briefings and replaced with “Chinese virus,” (yes, that actually happened;, I wasn’t aware that Asian-based prejudices were this bad.

I have to wonder, were Jewish people in Europe just considered a charming sub-culture with their own exotic shops, language, and diet, prior to the plague, and then the antisemitism ramped up? Was the Joker right and we’re all only kind and tolerant right up to the point where we can only get one months’-worth of toilet paper in advance, and that’s when we resort to cannibalism? Is racism really the first move out of the gate? I used to think we had a pretty good understanding of infectious diseases and how to handle them; now, we can’t get frat kids off of Delray Beach (this is true). The good news is, given that Rand Paul now has Covid 19 (after voting against a bill to fund disaster-relief programs), and the fact that five GOP senators are self-isolating (eroding McConnell’s stranglehold in the senate), it does seem as if this virus sort of selectively targets assholes. Of course, that’s probably confirmation bias on my part; Idris Elba also has it.

But, back to the central point of this essay — which is rapidly becoming my central point in life — people reveal odd aspects of themselves in a crisis. I’m not going to argue that what they reveal is the defining attribute of them (although, “Spiteful, stubborn, and utterly unwilling to die” certainly isn’t a bad summary of my personality). However, what’s fascinating in all of these life-or-death situations is, how many people go straight to some form of xenophobia. I kind of get that we cling to what’s safe, and what we know, but, if you had cancer before age 18, you don’t have a warm, fuzzy past to retreat to. Similarly, it’s not like America has some beautiful golden age that we should idealize — it’s always been shades of xenophobia and genocide (Okay, I might need to abort this train of thought before I wind up arguing that the virus should spread).

From “The Wuhan Virus” to weird tirades about eating bats — which is what this is really about — people I thought I sort of knew have revealed that there is an inner Imperial Grand Dragon. I bring up the whole “eating bats” thing specifically because I’ve seen several Facebook posts about it, and it was the go-to talking point with Ebola. Not, “They’ve done a damned good job at containing this thing, considering there are fewer than 200 physicians in Sierra Leone,” or, “What lessons can we take from this that could better prepare us for the next outbreak?” Just, ‘EW, eating bats!” The irony is, of course, most people harping on about this would think nothing of eating wild boar or mussels or escargot; even though Our Lord had a few choice words about those recipes in the Old Testament. I’d argue the point of this whole thing shouldn’t be, “Don’t eat bats,” but, “Don’t eat wild animals, period.” And, to my fellow Americans, before you bash someone else’s dietary choices, let me remind you that, based on personal observations; you’d all happily wipe your asses with a king cobra if it were labeled as “sharp toilet paper” at this point.

Still, my Asian friends are facing a weird level of unfounded xenophobia as their white friends face the potential — Aztec gods forbid — of making two months’-worth of toilet paper and calories last three whole weeks. I guess Heath Ledgers’ Joker was absolutely right when he claimed that people are happy when everything’s going to plan, but the minute things get shaky, we happily start sacrificing each other to the gods.

That last bit is, unfortunately, not as theoretical as I’d like. Not far behind racism is ageism — and, “Okay, Boomer” is not ageism, “We’d happily kill you to protect the GDP” is ageism. That’s not my sentiment, BTW, that’s actually Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick ( Yes, God forbid we should just take a few weeks off and catch up on “Curb your enthusiasm” instead of going out, spending money, and putting other people at risk for a disease; they really should have thought of the health risks of aging before they decided to get old. My advice to other Americans is; stay indoors, don’t leave the house; and fact-check your politicians. And keep very careful note of who’s saying unhelpful, racist stuff at this time; and make sure they’re not your “emergency contact” on the paperwork, because what they’re revealing about themselves in this moment is; they aren’t good during crisis, and are just counting down the seconds until murder, human sacrifice, and cannibalism is legal.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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