PARIS - France announced its sixth case of the new coronavirus this week and repatriated a planeload of its citizens from the virus-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan. But back at home, Chinese and others in the wider East Asian community there say they are becoming targets for discrimination.
Just as fast as the coronavirus is spreading, so too seems to be prejudice. In Japan, South Korea and Italy — and now France. This week the French hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus — I Am Not A Virus — was trending on Twitter.
One Chinese man interviewed on France's BFMTV — his face hidden so he wouldn't be recognized — described walking out of a Paris gym and being accosted by teenagers, who laughed and said, "There's coronavirus coming."
Ethnic Chinese aren't the only ones being targeted. One account on social media describes a Vietnamese woman being shunned by those around her. Other East Asians say fellow passengers on public transport move away from them, or put scarves in front of their faces.
In a television interview, Laetitia Chhiv, head of the Association of Young Chinese in France, said coronavirus was giving expression to latent racism.
It hasn't helped that a French newspaper, Le Courrier Picard, published the headline "Yellow Alert" on its cover last Sunday, and titled an editorial "A New Yellow Peril." The newspaper quickly apologized, saying the move was unintentional, but the damage was done.
Interviewed by a colleague, journalist Linh-Lan Dao said she couldn't believe the Courrier Picard's title. "We're in the 21st century," she said.
All this comes after France reported a surge in racist and xenophobic acts in 2019 — up 130 percent from the previous year. While much of the focus has been on Jews and Muslims, ethnic Chinese have also been targeted in recent years. The government's line is zero tolerance to discrimination.
In 2016, thousands of Chinese staged protests after a Chinese man was killed outside Paris by three men trying to rob his companion's bag. It wasn't the first attack — and Chinese anti-violence activist Tamara Lui says it hasn't been the last.
Lui says the same prejudice behind these past attacks on the Chinese community — because they're stigmatized as rich and hardworking and therefore good targets to rob — is being seen with coronavirus today.