Post-themed party, racial insensitivity is alive & well on campus

An anonymous student details the implications of the community response to the Coronavirus-themed party


Editors’ Note: The author has been granted anonymity out of concern for personal safety.

To start the decade, news of the novel coronavirus made headlines, spreading panic and fear faster than the virus itself has spread.

Though much of the information being circulated in the media is false—or perhaps becauseit’s false—there’s also been a sharp rise in the stigmatization of certain groups, specifically the Chinese community, bringing back the same racism experienced by many during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.

For many, the Coronavirus outbreak has unleashed xenophobic and blatantly racist ideas, which were shown in responses from students to the recent Coronavirus party here at Queen’s.

It’s important to understand where the virus should stand in the public view. Given backlash from members of the Chinese student community who condemned the actions of those involved in the party and other groups who raised their voices to defend the party, I’ll address some of the more common issues.

The first thing that stood out to me about widespread online student backlash to the party was the way some people simultaneously discredit the severity of the Coronavirus, claiming that it provides no grounds for such a sensitive reaction to the party, while continuing to encourage, or alternately, deny their discrimination.

One such argument, seen in the comments of a now-deleted post about the party in the popular Facebook group “Overheard at Queen’s,” referred to the low death rates of the Coronavirus, comparing it to the common flu. Many have used this to challenge the validity of concern directed toward the Coronavirus.

To the people who are currently affected and to those who may have lost loved ones to Coronavirus, this is no small matter. The rest of us shouldn’t consider it as such. An exact death toll is not a direct determinant of whether or not the party was thrown in bad taste.

Responses to the Coronavirus-themed party are a perfect example of how people manipulate their use of language to escape implications that they’re promoting racist rhetoric while criticizing those students most impacted by the event.

After news of the party broke, those actively defending the party seem to have suddenly become lawyers, finding loopholes to make excuses for their own attitudes and those of the people who attended it.

But racism has no middle ground.

Instead of focusing on technicalities, we should take a stronger stance to confront racism. Unfortunately, it’s hard to pinpoint, harder to call out, and even harder to admit to. People could claim subjectively that this party didn’t stigmatize the Chinese community—and I would have no way to prove otherwise—but this alleged lack of direct evidence of racism is a circular argument and a problem in itself.

At this point, no one who attended is likely to speak up about what actually happened, and those raising criticisms most likely didn’t attend, so they obviously wouldn’t have evidence.

The dire emotional consequences the party had on the student community and the fact that it perpetuates racism are no less significant because they’re intangible. The party carried more meaning than what we might have seen on the surface—not only for Chinese students, but for all minorities on campus. We shouldn’t wait for more damage to be done to our community before we realize that we need to take action against racism.

We rarely judge things for what they are at face value, but rather, by their impact. A knife is just a tool until it hurts someone. While thousands of people are suffering from the Coronavirus, a group of students toasted under its name. It’s neverokay to make light or make fun of any source of misery or death. If you wouldn’t have an HIV-themed party, why would it be okay to have a Coronavirus-themed party?

An action without intent doesn’t justify the action itself. I hope anyone who wants to defend the party by saying that there were no ill intentions recognizes the insufficiency of their arguments.

Likewise, the intention to take a certain action—such as issuing an apology—doesn’t automatically translate to accomplishment of the intended objective.

Many were fiercely protective of our former undergraduate student trustee when he publicly apologized for attending the party, and they felt this apology was sincere. But this is someone we entrusted with a position of power—someone whose very role was to understand the needs of students at Queen’s and address their concerns.

He should have foreseen the consequences and known better as both a student and as a student leader. A Facebook apology and a sudden resignation are simply public-facing actions that focus more on the perpetrator’s reputation than on making an actual difference in the community.

A statement that claims to acknowledge the problems faced by Chinese students can only be considered lip service until it’s backed with action.

Racism is like a cancer: it may not show its effects right away, but we should remove the tumours anyway, even if they’re benign to begin with.

But, unlike a cancer, racism is viral, and it can insinuate itself into all of our lives. At the end of the day, discourse surrounding the party will blow over, but we can’t let down our guard. The reason there’s so much opposition to the party isn’t just because of the emotional distress it caused members of a certain community, but because we know it’s not a one-time occurrence.

The party, the online comments that followed, and the large-scale discrimination with which our minority students at Queen’s are afflicted were all presented with the chance to manifest last week.

The outbreak of Coronavirus has made people’s damaging prejudice more public, and racism has once again reared its ugly face.

While we may not be able to uproot this problem right away, the first step is to start digging.

The Coronavirus-themed party was more than a party. Its impact can’t be resolved by arguing meaningless technicalities or focusing solely on redeeming those who were involved in it.

On our campus, we face a deeper culture of racial insensitivity which enabled this party to happen right in front of us, triggered by students we interact with every day.

We can’t ignore that racial insensitivity any longer.

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