Asian Celebs around the world experiencing COVID-19-induced racism

We’re now into the third month since the news of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) first broke, and anxiety over the outbreak has only heightened due to the climbing numbers of globally reported confirmed cases. Although this increasing worry over the outbreak has had several positive effects such as making individuals more hygiene conscious, it has also had many negative effects like creating a wave of anti-Asian sentiment around the globe.

While not all of us can say that we are experiencing these negative effects, there’s been an increase in the number of awful encounters. By now, you would have heard of the incident in London where Singaporean student Jonathan Mok was physically assaulted by a group of youths on Oxford Street, which left him with a few fractures in his face that might require reconstructive surgery.

‘Get the F**k Away From My Car’

And, it is not just physical encounters that are occurring. Homegrown talent Benjamin Kheng recently took to his Facebook page to share an encounter he had on his current vacation in New Zealand.


A screenshot of Benjamin’s post from his Facebook page.

The incident happened a few days ago when the Find Me singer was having some payment issues at a petrol station and approached a local for help. Instead of some assistance, Benjamin was rudely turned down with a remark that seemed to have more to do with his ethnicity than an unwillingness to assist.

‘That’s why you’re starting all sorts of diseases!’

Even beauty YouTuber and entrepreneur Michelle Phan, though an American citizen and of Vietnamese descent, was not spared from the onslaught of racist comments.


Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, the Ipsy founder took to her Twitter to address a string of racist comments she had received on her Instagram page. After sharing her first encounter, she went on to share her unfiltered thoughts about the racism she was dealing with — which really shouldn’t be something that needs to be done considering how progressive our society has become.

What’s up with this blatant prejudice?

A sign on the front door of a nail bar on the island of Phu Quoc, Vietnam. (Image credit: Sophie Carsten via Reuters)

It goes without saying that this irrational fear of Asians has a lot to do with rampant ignorance and misinformation which has shaped the perception that frightened individuals have. As the rising numbers initially were reported out of Asia, it automatically became an excuse for stereotyping and fear-mongering especially through social media channels.

The readily available platform has instantaneously become a hotbed of inaccurate and racist information that is shared with others who may already have had existing prejudice towards people of various groups, i.e. the Chinese or anyone looking remotely Asian.

As shared by Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, it isn’t uncommon to see social stigma, blame and discrimination occur during outbreaks — since it is tied up to the fact that people are just wired to find someone to blame during an outbreak of a contagious disease.

Other instances of COVID-19-related discrimination

Burberry Disinvites South Korean Celebrities
Burberry’s Showcase at London Fashion Week. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Before their scheduled showcase at the London Fashion Week (which lasted from 14 to 18 February), the British luxury brand had reportedly cancelled invitations to South Korean actor Yoo Ah-In and actress Gong Hyo-Jin, as well as their Korean branch counterparts, citing Coronavirus concerns.

Even though the celebrity duo was already scheduled to attend the event, Burberry had gone ahead to disinvite them as part of their preventive measures in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak. Interestingly enough, celebrities and employees from other parts of Asia, including China, Japan, and Hong Kong were also reportedly not in attendance after the announcement of the invitation withdrawal.

South Korean singer Chung-Ha labelled as ‘the coronavirus’

During her attendance at Milan’s Fashion Week, Chung-Ha unknowingly became a subject of awful ridicule when she had her photograph taken by an Italian attendee who uploaded the image onto Instagram with an Italian caption that was translated as ‘The coronavirus is moving’.


Chung-Ha at Milan’s Fashion Week + Screenshot saved by Chung-Ha’s fans. (Image credit: Chung-Ha Global on Twitter)

The photo was eventually deleted after fans of the singer found out about it and mass-reported his account. He had re-uploaded the image without a caption the second time around but had it removed again after he was bombarded with critical comments.

BTS and their staff are ‘carrying the Coronavirus’
BTS during their visit to the SiriusXM Studios on February 21, 2020 in New York City. (Photo credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

In an episode of Howard Stern’s SiriusXM radio show, the host was discussing the growing concerns of the COVID-19 virus when he shared a comment his staff member had said when he spotted the K-pop supergroup BTS alongside their entourage in the SiriusXM New York headquarters.

Much like every other misinformed individual, Howard’s staff had voiced his opinion by saying that ‘there’s no way those guys don’t have the coronavirus’ — even though health checks would have already been made before they entered the country.

Is there any way to prevent this escalation of prejudice?

San Francisco Chinatown and supporters calling for unity amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. (Image credit: Liberation News)

There is no sure solution to this because everyone — individuals, political leaders, businesses, or others — are responsible for the way that they behave. It is up to each person to self-assess whether their actions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak comes from a place of truth or a place of prejudice.

We all know that even before the COVID-19 outbreak, xenophobia and racism exists. Though it may be hard to get past the initial blaming stage, there is a need to understand that in a pandemic situation, everyone is vulnerable and that is the reason why we need to stand together rather than divided. The real danger is when we have to battle a pandemic as a fractured society with a virus on the loose and normalised abuse towards one another.


Featured image credit: Benjamin Kheng’s Facebook Page, E! Online, MNH Entertainment