Historian Heidi Tworek Interviewed on the History Behind Coronavirus Racism

Historians in the News
tags: historians, coronavirus

A virus is a virus, but humans have a long history of turning their fear of disease into unwarranted panic about people and places.

Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) came into the public eye earlier this year, China - and people of Chinese ethnicity - has been the target of these phobias, given that the virus started there.

So, too, have millions of people around the world who look like they may have once had ancestors there.

This is nothing new, according to Heidi Tworek, an assistant professor of history and member of the Language Sciences Initiative at the University of B.C.

Here is a Q and A with Tworek about the complicated history of race and disease: How does history help explain the current panic about the novel coronavirus?

When we see a new epidemic emerge, we don’t often think about the long history of imperialist and racist beliefs that diseases emerge from certain places, or that they are deadlier when they come from certain places. One example of that from the 19th century onwards is cholera, which was often called “Asiatic” cholera. That was not because there was necessarily more cholera in Asia—there were lots of cholera

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