I was aware of the severity of the coronavirus long before my peers were. With my parents and grandparents in Hong Kong and my passion for science, I kept a close eye on the news.
I also felt the impact of the racial aspect of coronavirus well before those in England began to consider the danger they were in. While they were joking, whenever one of my friends would make a comment like "you have the virus!" if I even so much as coughed, it left an impact on me. And I felt alienated in a way that I had only felt when I first arrived at my boarding school to find that I was the only one who wasn’t a fully English white girl from Kent/London. The way I looked made me feel different for the first time in a long time, and this did not sit well with me.
To make matters worse, as I was walking back from sports one day, two men in the back of a white van screamed "Coronavirus" at me and then began to laugh. I don't understand how or why this would be funny, and I don't think I ever will. All I could think was that people were dying from the Coronavirus, and yet here in the UK, people are using it as a racial insult. In that moment, I had never felt so small. They made me feel that I was somehow to blame for their comments. My friends often tell me that there's barely any racism in the UK, but I take this with a massive pinch of salt as they are all white. What do they know of racism? I’m not even fully Chinese, yet the amount of times I’ve had the word "chink" muttered at me in the street is unbelievable.
When I got back to Hong Kong, after completing my 14 day compulsory quarantine, I was allowed to go out as we are not in lockdown here. When asked on a zoom call what it was like in Hong Kong, I told the truth: I was able to see friends and I was pretty much able to go about my daily business. The reaction of one of the girls who I consider a very close friend shocked me. She said, "I hate how your country started it and yet you can go out now while we’re stuck in lockdown." In that moment, a sense of shame towards my ethnicity washed over me. Then as quickly as it came, it was replaced by a deep sense of injustice and anger. My country had suffered enough, they had fought to save as many lives as possible, and what had the West done? Ignored it was happening instead of planning, because of course the West is untouchable.
As Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda once said in regard to HIV in 1987: "What is more important than knowing where the disease came from is where it is going." Granted he wasn't talking about the current COVID-19, however, his words resonate strongly with me. Playing the blame game does nothing for our fight against the virus, except causing us to become even more estranged. In the end it doesn't matter right now, COVID-19 is here, the pandemic is spreading across the planet. We need to deal with the here and now. What we need now is to work together, to share our ideas and plans, and together we can beat this so much faster. Right now, it is not important where the virus came from, but that it is here, and we must work together to figure out where it is going and how to prevail.
Written by: Abi Brooke