A UBC professor said she isn’t surprised by the recent rash of racist incidents in the Okanagan connecting Asian ethnic groups and the coronavirus.
Over the past week, two separate incidents of racial stereotyping have prompted controversy in the Okanagan.
The first incident occurred over the weekend of Feb. 23. when two Kelowna, B.C. realtors posted internet memes that made fun of Chinese culture and China in connection to the coronavirus.
A West Kelowna resident notified Black Press Media about the social media posts stating the realtors had been posting racist content targeting specific demographics on their Instagram.
“This is dreadful behaviour in the year 2020,” said the resident.
The posts were made by Royal LePage realtor Geoff Hays and sales representative Krista Marble, who’s Instagram accounts have since been deleted.
Hays declined to comment when reached and Marble did not respond to an interview request.
Broker Steve Gray with Royal LePage, said the incident is currently under investigation and the appropriate measures will be taken.
Heidi Tworek, an assistant professor of international history at UBC, said there is a long history of associating diseases with certain cultures, dating back to the 19th century.
“It doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately, given this longer history of associating diseases with particular places and then extrapolating that to whole ethnicities and making those sorts of assumptions,” said Tworek, who teaches the history of international relations and health communications.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of that around the coronavirus.”
According to Tworek, the association with coronavirus and Asian culture has caused a drop in the number of people visiting Chinese restaurants in the U.S. The disease has also prompted parents in Ontario to petition schools to quarantine students whose families traveled to China.
While these examples may seem unfair or unjust, Tworek said this is an issue that has been occurring for more than a century, most infamously with the Black Death, which resulted in the deaths of 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.
“This is a long-standing issue that goes back at least to the 19th century, if not even earlier,” said Tworek.
“The Black Death in the middle ages was blamed on an outside group as well, in that case, the Jews or others that were moving into Italy. We’ve seen this phenomenon in the last 150 years with Asians, but not solely. Throughout history, it’s been seen with groups who were marginalized in different ways.”
The second incident in the Okanagan happened in Penticton on Feb. 21 when the Penticton Chinese community place of gathering was vandalized in an attack that was allegedly racially-motivated.
During the night of Feb. 21, several windows at the community’s place of gathering were broken with rocks. Security footage recorded an individual walking alongside their building at 501 Winnipeg Street and making several angry statements before picking up an object and allegedly breaking the windows.
The incident left the Chinese community feeling insecure.
“Of course we feel a bit upset, and honestly surprised,” said Shui Kei Ma, who spoke on behalf of the community.
“I don’t why they are doing this. Is it because of the anti-Chinese, anti-coronavirus? I have no idea.”
While emotions may be high during this health emergency, Tworek encourages people to remember that several thousand people have died because of the coronavirus and the public should be sensitive to Chinese communities and others who have lost family and friends to the virus.