Last Thursday, February 27, the debate “Coronavirus: silencing, disinformation, and solidarity” took place at the Lúcio Craveiro da Silva Library.
Participated in the event Chen Yue, a doctoral student in Cultural Studies at the Institute of Social Sciences, as well as Rosa Cabecinhas and Manuel Pinto, professors in the Department of Communication Sciences at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Minho and researchers at the Communication and Society Research Centre. The intervention was moderated by António Lázaro, a professor in the History Department at the same institute and director of the Confúcio Institute of the University of Minho.
The audience was asked the question of how to have reliable sources of information. At the opening of the event, “challenge” was the term used by Aida Alves, director of the Library: “communities, institutions, and citizens made this space [of knowledge] challenged”.
Ph.D. student Chen Yue, a Chinese resident in Europe for seven years, gave an account of his experience in a context in which discrimination is implanted in the face of lack of knowledge. It reports not only the discrimination suffered by itself but also that directed against other Chinese colleagues by the local community. On the streets, in supermarkets and even at the university, people will have the attitude of attributing the spread of the virus [COVID-19] to Chinese and other Asian nationalities. According to Yue, there will be an explicit discriminatory language among young people of school age, with statements such as “there come the Chinese”.
Rosa Cabecinhas raised reflections on how discrimination can disguise itself as preventive measures. Commercial establishments, for example, claim security requirements to keep out certain types of customers. This approximation between the biological agent and the image of the other as a danger, according to the professor, is “treating the other as not entirely human” and attributes the character of potential risk, which in some cases can lead to cases of extreme dehumanization. Discrimination does not only occur against the Chinese but also against other Asian populations who are “homogenized as if they were all the same”, an expression of palpable racism in many everyday situations.
Manuel Pinto made his contribution, referring to the sensationalism generated by the media. Much is said about the growing suspected and confirmed cases. These speeches consequently generate an alarm and the proliferation of unverified information, as well as showing little knowledge to deal with the fact. Manuel Pinto also emphasized that little is said about cases of recovery from infection, especially those that occurred in Chinese territory.
Similarly, António Lázaro emphasized that, throughout history, the panic caused by the spread of diseases, such as the so-called “Black Plague” and “Spanish Flu”, triggered discriminatory behavior with the justification of blaming the other and justifying their extermination.
The Coronavirus – officially called COVID-19 – was made public in global media in early January 2020. Initially detected in the Chinese province of Wuhan, it spread across five continents. In China, a considerable number of contaminations have been reversed so far.
This session was an initiative of MILOBS – Observatory of Media Literacy, in collaboration with the Doctoral Program of Cultural Studies at the University of Minho.