London’s Chinatown suffers
People’s fear of contracting the virus have led them to avoid Chinese restaurants, resulting in a downturn in business and an upturn in racist abuse. Bookings at Jinli restaurant’s four branches have fallen by 50%. General manager Martin Ma estimates the usually busy flagship restaurant in London’s Chinatown has lost £15,000 over the weekend alone.
Jinli staff returning from China are kept home for at least 14 days, and sanitiser gel is used extensively, but people continue to be scared and stay away from Chinese restaurants.
The narrative of ‘Otherness’
This fear is unwarranted when it comes in the form of racist prejudice that frames Chinese individuals (and anyone who, in the eye of a Westerner, might look like them) as uncivilized, barbaric ‘Others.’ ‘Others’ who, because of their appetite for animals outside the norm of Occidental diets, enable the spread of contagious diseases such as Coronavirus.
The often subtle racism is expressed by the avoidance of Chinese people, but also with ‘casual’ verbal abuse that people of East Asian descent are expected to brush off. It brings to the fore previously dormant racism about the things they eat, much like Brexit has been a springboard for openly offending foreigners with racist comments.
The increase in racism also reveals people’s strong beliefs in their own cultural hegemony where some animals are considered socially acceptable to eat, and others are not. While currently the prohibition of meat production would be unimaginable in the United States, the slaughter and sale of cows in India is considered a sin and forbidden by law in vast areas of the country. Similarly, horse meat is deemed a delicacy in many parts of Europe, most famously France, but an appearance of horse tartare on an episode of Top Chef Canada in 2011 caused massive outrage.
There are no hard scientific facts to suggest the necessity of avoiding London’s Chinatown. But there is evidence that blatant and subtle racism can cause damage to individuals who endure it, and to a capital that prides itself on building bridges between cultures and on enabling people from these cultures to live together, harmoniously.