The idea that ‘immigrants are coming to our country and taking our jobs’ has been given a lot of recognition over the last five years, to the delight of some and despair of others.
The idea that technology is coming to our country and taking our jobs, on the other hand, is given less recognition, to the delight and despair of no one.
When the supermarkets first introduced the self-checkout machines, can you imagine how angry the staff would have been had they instead been replaced by immigrants?
Being replaced by a machine somehow feels less infuriating than being replaced by a human, and this will largely be because we cannot dispute the machine will be more efficient. But it’s not the only reason.
When humans get frustrated, as we do when things go wrong (e.g. we lose a job), we seek someone human to blame. By blaming something un-human, such as one of those self-checkout machines, it is impossible for us to imagine that what we are blaming could ever suffer what we have. We know there is no way that the self-check-out machine will ever know what it feels like to be replaced, because it has no feelings.
Instead, we blame a person, or a group of people. When it comes to losing our jobs, it could be the management of the company, or the Government. But often it is the immigrants, who are easy to distinguish and tend not to wield much power.
But we cannot blame immigrants for the physical, financial, emotional and mental harm that COVID-19 has, and will continue, to cause.
Unlike immigration to the UK, which is a domestic issue, COVID-19 is international, and up until now our international enemy has been Islamic terrorism – but we cannot blame Islamic terrorism for COVID-19.
It seems we always need an international enemy: During World War II it was the Axis Powers, until that ended in 1945. After that it was the Soviet Union, until that collapsed in 1991. After that we didn’t really know who the enemy should be, but then after 9/11 it became obvious that it should be Islamic terrorism, and ‘Islamophobia’ was born.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus will always be associated with China, and it will often come to mind when we meet a Chinese person. It is a shame, but true, that most of us think of a Muslim terrorist when we picture a terrorist, primarily as a result of how terrorism is portrayed in much of the media to be linked to Islam. The same link is going to be made between COVID-19 and China, and ‘Chinaphobia’ is going to become a new buzzword.
I read the other day that there has been a 21% increase in hate crimes towards South and East Asians, but I have also seen it for myself. Through February I was travelling around South East Asia, and I was already seeing a lot of racism towards Chinese people. At hostels other travellers would be wary that the Chinese guests had the virus, and the Chinese guests would often feel the need to desperately declare that they were not in China when the virus began. This kind of behaviour is going to stick, and we should all be wary of it.
Muslims are not to blame for terrorism, and Chinese people are not to blame for COVID-19.
…But we probably will.