You are walking along the streets minding your own business, when you looked at someone and before you know it, you got whacked in the face. Simply because you were deemed by the person as undesirable, someone who should not be there because you pose a danger to others.
This scenario does happen to people. A Singaporean student was walking along the streets of London when he walked past a group of men, who said something that sounded like ‘coronavirus’. When he turned around, the group told him not to look at them, and started beating him up when he did not listen. This student sustained serious facial injuries that require reconstruction surgery for some of his bones.
This is not the first incident linked to covid-19. There were other incidents, reported or unreported, linked to Chinese, Singaporeans, Koreans, Japanese and so on. The Chinese got a big chunk of it as covid-19 emerged from Wuhan. When the virus spread to other countries over the first few months of 2019, more countries started barring the entry of travellers from various countries into the land, in a bid to protect their borders from the possibility of importing the virus in.
I would consider these cases to be instances of discrimination. What is that? Discrimination is ‘an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of people, especially on the grounds of race, sex or age’. When one makes an unjust distinction in enacting a policy or measure, one is practising discrimination.
What about the Holland American Westerdam? The cruise ship was suspected of carrying a passenger with the coronavirus in February. As a result, it was rejected at five ports of call over fears that the virus could spread from the ship. Consequently Cambodia made the decision to allow them to dock. That the Diamond Princess cruise ship had over 600 confirmed cases while out at sea in January and early February did not help Westerdam at all. That only made countries more fearful of this health scare.
So the Singaporean student who was attacked and suffered injuries is a clear case of discrimination. It is like how people are called names simply because they are disliked or hated by others. Banning specific nationalities from entering a country however is not a clear-cut definition of discrimination.
While taking preventive measures to protect residents from the possibility of getting infected is legitimate, how it is done is important. You cannot impose a blanket ban on citizens of one country from entering another country, as that is too broad a measure. It is a discriminatory practice disguised as a safety measure.
However, if you put up a measure that specifies that travellers originating from one country cannot enter into another, that is a different thing altogether. The measure may seem discriminatory, but as it is not targeted at a specific human attribute, this should not construe as discrimination.
We can probably think of many examples in real life where discrimination is rather obvious. How many of us have applied for jobs only to realise that companies didn’t want to consider us because of some personal attributes? For example, have you seen job openings that make claims that applicants should be fluent in a specific language? If the job is based in a specific location, it is probably understandable. But if the job requires travelling and cuts across countries, requiring fluency in one language is suspect.
How about instances in the workplace where people are not considered for specific roles because of age? That is perhaps more common than imagined. People may hold hidden assumptions how age plays a part in the ability to perform a job. Perceptions can magnify reality and people can make perceptions become real.
This last example is probably less obvious, but nonetheless discriminatory. How many of us think that participation in democratic elections is a natural order of things? Yet if you think about it, not everyone can participate in elections. Those who have mental health issues or mobility issues may not have access to election sites. Those who are illiterate or are destitute do not know what is going on. People without a national identity are not eligible to vote. Something that many of us may take for granted is actually inaccessible to some others.
The reality is it takes a lot of effort to surface discriminatory practices and call them out as they are. All of us are socialised in the specific environment we grow up in, hence it requires alternate ways of thinking to be aware and identify practices or norms that discriminate unintentionally. It is not easy, but we can start somewhere.
Have you encountered discrimination before? You may call it racism, ageism, sexism or whatever other terms, but these are all discriminatory practices. How will you deal with these practices?