Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Island Voices
SARS haunts Asians unfairly

Warren A. Kaneshiro is a
Honolulu resident.

SARS refers to severe acute respiratory syndrome, but it might as well be referred to, as has been suggested, severe Asian racism syndrome.

An acquaintance, while on a trip to New York, had been sarcastically asked if she had SARS. Why? Simply because (a) she is Asian and (b) she had a cold.

Then there was the woman whose comments had been aired on radio. "Authorities should be really careful about who attends," she said about a concert. "They shouldn't allow Chinese or Korean people. I mean, I don't want to die of SARS!"

And don't forget the rumor about Honolulu's Chinatown restaurants harboring Chinese employees infected with SARS. Great, I thought, one's restaurant suddenly becomes a victim of SARS because it is a — gulp! — Asian establishment that employs — double gulp! — Asians. Asinine.

It appears Asians have become the world's next wave of terrorists. And to whom do Asians owe the credit? Why none other than the media.

Whenever the media run a story on the SARS epidemic, they almost always accompany it with a photograph of Asian faces covered by surgical masks. Due to that common practice, SARS eventually developed a profile — an Asian profile.

Sure, China is the birthplace of SARS, and the majority of SARS cases are in Asia. That, however, does not make SARS an Asian illness, just one whose roots are in Asia. The World Health Organization has reported cases, real or assumed, in 26-plus countries. Despite affecting other ethnicities, the media continue to use Asian faces when covering the epidemic.

To put a face on any disease or illness, as the media have done with SARS, is dangerous. An illustration of that danger is AIDS. In its infancy, gay males had been the predominant group to contract the disease. Thus, the media portrayed AIDS as a gay man's disease.

After some time, however, the media displayed some responsibility. They began portraying images of different groups who had contracted the disease. Finally, and correctly, the public realized that AIDS affects many non-gays as well. I yearn for the same to occur with respect to the media's coverage of SARS.