UC Berkeley, others accused of fueling racism amid Coronavirus outbreak

A recent social media post from the University of California, Berkeley listing xenophobia as a common reaction to the coronavirus sparked backlash as critics say the language used normalizes racism.

The backlash comes as individuals of Asian descent across the country report a rise is racism in the midst of the deadly outbreak. 

The post, made by UC Berkley’s University Health Services Tang Center, was uploaded to the Instagram account “Be Well Cal” earlier this week. The graphic depicts “common” mental reactions to the news surrounding the outbreak of the coronavirus, such as anxiety, helplessness and xenophobia, or prejudice against people from other countries.

An NBC News affiliate reported that the image was removed after it was met with criticism for normalizing racism.

“Confused and honestly very angry about this Instagram post from an official UC Berkeley Instagram account,” alumna Adrienne Shih tweeted on Thursday with a picture of the graphic. “When is xenophobia ever a ‘normal reaction?’”

The health center’s Twitter account stated a formal apology Thursday, saying that it regrets any misunderstandings and the language in its materials have been updated. 


“It was a very unfortunate mistake,” Yan Long, sociology department professor, told the news station. 

Long specializes in global health issues and her parents – who live in the Chinese province next to Wuhan, where the outbreak originated – are currently under lockdown.

“It’s a just very emotional time for me, and a lot of people who have their families and friends in China,” she added.

UC Berkeley is not the only institution that has released material deemed offensive to those of Asian decent. 

CNN reported that French news outlet Courrier Picard printed on the cover of its paper “Yellow Alert,” with another headline in the same edition reading “New Yellow Peril?”

The terms used in the newspaper were, at one time, a 19th century derogatory and racist ideology used to target East Asians in Western countries. The paper has since apologized for publishing those headlines.

Social media has also perpetuated misinformation and fears about the outbreak of the coronavirus, with some popular outlets and commentators such as Paul Joseph Watson, an English YouTube personality and radio host, claiming that the virus originated with the consumption of wild animals such as bats.

Watson’s tweet reportedly alludes to a video of a woman biting into a cooked bat in Wuhan, China, according to media outlet Foreign Policy. In actuality, the video was filmed in 2016 in Palau, a Pacific island nation.


Some Asian creators on TikTok are making light of the racist stereotypes they feel are being perpetuated by upending them and turning them into jokes.

David Kim, 16, told BuzzFeed News that he made his video – which depicts Kim walking into class and implying that a crowd of students are distrustful of his wellness due to his Asian appearance – after talking with his parents.

“I asked them, ‘Should I wear a mask?’ Their answer was that if I wore a mask, people would avoid me even more because I’m Asian and I have the mask on,” he said.

The global death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has topped 250, according to several estimates. The U.S. has strongly encouraged travelers to avoid visiting China, along with several major airline companies halting flights to the country. 

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