We’ve seen this movie before: a virus breaks out in Asia or Africa, the racists crawl out from under their rocks, and the media dutifully stirs the pot.
It played in 2002 and 2003 during the SARS outbreak that killed nearly 800 people (mostly in China and Hong Kong); and again from 2013 to 2016 when the Ebola virus ravaged west Africa, claiming more than 11,000 lives.
And it’s happening all over again with the coronavirus, an epidemic that has so far infected 34,000 people and killed more than 700.
So we should be angry but not surprised when the Herald Sun incites racist sentiment
with its “Chinese virus” fear-mongering; and we should be ashamed yet not astounded to hear stories of our fellow citizens abusing people
of Asian appearance (who, in all likelihood, are also
our fellow citizens), or cafes
peddling a bit of casual Sinophobia to promote their businesses.
This turn towards anti-China sentiment is not new. Over the past year or so fears of China’s influence in the region, its interference in Australian politics and its appetite for Australian land and infrastructure have seen people’s trust in China
With the smell of “yellow peril” in the air the Fraser Anning/One Nation/“Fuck off we’re full” corner of Facebook has become an especially grubby place, enabled by a political and media class that’s been very quick to issue dire warnings about China’s “insidiousness
” and “human rights record
Such alarmism and concern for human rights seem to be absent in any commentary about America’s long history of dubious interventions in Australia’s affairs, mind you.
The fragility of white supremacy
But the coronavirus and Chinese people buying cattle stations don’t make people racist. That’s not how that works. There are deeper roots.
In her excellent essay
Melbourne-based community organiser Ella Shi argues that this strand of racism is “symptomatic of the deliberate and anxious need to justify the existence of Australia as a colonial state and the dominance of an Anglo-European Australian identity”.
“In the post-colonial, post-Enlightenment Western world, white supremacy is a silent but pervasive premise. Today, because that logic is increasingly challenged and this sentiment cannot openly be expressed, it seeks reasons to manifest in a way that seems grounded in science, reason, morality – and a virus is the perfect excuse.
"This exertion of control grounded in ‘immoral’ behaviour evokes an idea that it is crucial to the sustenance of the nation state – that there is an ‘us’ and a bad, dangerous ‘them’ that we need to be protected from. Because who is ‘us’ if there is no ‘them’?”
Racism – historical, structural – might be baked into the Australian pie, but the media remains especially welcoming to those of our countrymen and women who are skilled at exploiting racism as a content vertical.
News Corp, home to w̶h̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶s̶u̶p̶r̶e̶m̶a̶c̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶h̶a̶t̶e̶ ̶m̶e̶r̶c̶h̶a̶n̶t̶s̶ brave truth-tellers like Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, Miranda Devine and the late Bill Leak, is particularly adept (although not alone) at identifying hot-button racial issues and concocting incendiary tales of “African gangs” and “queue-jumpers” to foment reader outrage and generate sales and clicks.
Yet racism as a business model is not only directly
profitable, it also serves a broader and more important function: to divide the working class
and pit identity groups against each other.
International solidarity is a threat to capitalism, so the establishment – represented by corporate media organisations and the pliable governments they prop up – will do all it can to ensure that the working classes of China and Australia view each other as foes.
But we’re not foes. Our interests are the same. And the fight against this deadly virus is our battle as much as it is theirs.