[Ed. – Mistaking self-preservation for racism.]
Pandemics have always been fellow travelers of globalization. A third phenomenon stalks in their shadow: racism.
That’s worrying. The global threat of Covid-19 seems to be leading not to a unified global response, but to an American president who until Tuesday was describing it as a “Chinese virus” while officials in Beijing stirred up conspiracy theories on social media about a U.S. military origin for the disease. Already, stories are proliferating of people subject to abuse and attacks for “coughing while Asian,” or being turned away from businesses because of actual or presumed Chinese ethnicity.
Sadly, there’s nothing new in this. As my colleague Pankaj Mishra has written, the current situation parallels events a century ago, when the first interconnected world economy unraveled into the chaos of World War I. It was disease, as much as war and revolution, that drove that collapse.