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Coronavirus memes create less empathy and instill racism

Coronavirus memes create less empathy and instill racism

Coronavirus memes create less empathy and instill racism
February 19
12:30 2020

It is safe to say that there is a trend of medical outbreaks that occur every few years. In the 2000s, there were the SARS outbreaks and the H1N1 virus, the latter which occurred in the later part of the decade. The previous decade saw three major outbreaks such as the Ebola virus, the Zika virus and now the Wuhan coronavirus that is bleeding over to the current decade. The coronavirus has killed more than 910 people and most of the deaths have occurred in China, according to a report by CNN.

Meme culture has grown rapidly in the last 10 years. While memes did exist prior to the major growth of the internet and social media, they were few and far between. Today, anything from politics to social issues can be made into a meme and nothing is off limits. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a long list of memes created for the situation. Though some memes are lighthearted and harmless, there are other memes that are heavily racist.

For example, I saw a list of memes related to the virus and the first picture on this list read, “Me and the squad tryna catch the coronavirus.” The picture attached to the meme shows a group friends clinking coronas together. Another meme shows Lisa Simpson standing in front of a powerpoint which reads, “The coronavirus won’t last long because it was made in China.”

Though I’m not a person who offends easily and loves good banter as much as the next person, there is a line that should be drawn to take the situation more seriously. I feel the coronavirus memes make us grow detached with the situation and the people who are affected by the virus. Though there were rumors that the virus had reached at least two people in Texas and there are confirmed cases across the country with Arizona being the closest state to us that has confirmed cases, according to map from NBC.

None of us on campus have really been impacted by this virus so there is already a sense of desensitization to the situation because if it isn’t happening in our backyard, why care about it? It’s dangerous to have a mentality like this because not only is it self-serving but it also creates a lack of empathy. The coronavirus has killed fathers, mothers and siblings. Why make a joke at the expense of people who have been impacted by this deadly virus?

Not only do these memes create room for less empathy, but it also creates room for rampant xenophobia. Since the Spanish Influenza, Asians have practiced wearing surgical face masks to protect themselves during flu season. Though this practice is innocent enough, a video surfaced on Twitter of a woman being chased and attacked for wearing a face mask in a New York subway by a man who called her “diseased.” NYPD is treating this attack as a hate crime and the NYPD Hate Crimes Twitter account tweeted for the woman to come forward so she could press charges against her assailant.

Though the woman is recovering from the attack, there is no denying that her attacker was provoked to commit the crime because he was programmed by memes and pictures that took jabs at the Asian community. His lack of media literacy doesn’t absolve him of any blame, but the point still stands. The coronavirus isn’t a joke and it’s affecting a group of people who aren’t even necessarily infected by the disease. The media is failing to promote awareness of the coronavirus and because of that, it creates space for fear and moral panic.

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Adrian Maldonado

Adrian Maldonado

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