By Maggie Q
I was looking forward to my day off all week. I’d been working in Eastern Europe for over two months and the one thing that brought me complete peace after a long week of filming was the hotel sauna. Unlike most places in the world, this one had co-ed saunas. It bothered me from go, but that’s how they do it here. Usually, saunas are in their respective locker rooms and the only issue, if any, is if you want quiet and your fellow females are with friends. If you haven’t heard, women like to talk. (Otherwise we’re perfect, just FYI.)
By now, the coronavirus was spreading fast through Europe, the number of cases mounting exponentially. It was hard to keep up with the news, as quickly as things were changing. Even harder was escaping the inexcusable labeling of Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus.”
I have never seen such irresponsibility from so-called leadership. With all the media accounts of Asians being physically assaulted, verbally abused and unfairly targeted, how could anyone—much less the leader of the free world—make it worse for innocent people?
Did we call HIV or Ebola West African? Mad Cow disease British? H5N1 originated in Hong Kong, and it was called Bird Flu, as it came from chickens.
Has there ever been a need to attach an ethnicity to a virus so fearful people could be led down the rabbit hole of blanket disrespect?
NO. I’ll tell you what the difference is. In other times of crisis, responsible leaders understood the power of their words. They didn’t foment fear and hatred with dangerous rhetoric. Words travel far and wide: translated, syndicated, headlined. Rinse, repeat; all day, every day. When there are already so many racist perceptions, why feed that monster during a crisis?
Idiots are everywhere, I would soon find out…
After a groggy wakeup, I made it upstairs to the health club and sauna. It was my turn to be the annoying female with a friend. I set my things down on the bench in front of the glass sauna door and saw my pretty redheaded friend trying to close her eyes and find some zen. I quickly realized why. A guy was in there, trying to chat her up. (Precisely why we like our spaces separate.)
As I entered the small hot room, I smiled at my friend and then at the man to be polite. No smile back from him; no biggie. After staring me down for 15 seconds, he got up and left. I didn’t think anything of it. I was glad he was gone.
Once the coast was clear, my friend told me what happened right before I stepped in.
After spotting me, the man turned to my friend and said, “Maybe?”
My annoyed friend replied, “Maybe what?”
“Maybe Chinese,” he said. “Corona.”
It was hot in the sauna, but my blood was boiling hotter. I assumed the man had left and actually hoped he had, as it would not bode well for him to see me after that comment. Anyone who knows me, knows my tolerance for bullshit is nil.
We exited the sauna about 20 minutes later and saw the man exiting the sauna next door. He’d moved to that one because I—the possibly Chinese woman—was going to infect him with coronavirus. My white girlfriend? Not a chance! She was safe! She’s white!
I passed him, wanting to punch him in the face, which I knew wasn’t right. Luckily, I’d forgotten something and had to double back a minute later. In that time, I collected myself. This had nothing to do with my personal feelings and everything to do with all Asians who were being treated like this and much, much worse.
I walked up to him—at a responsible social distance—but definitely too close for his comfort, which already made me happy.
I said, “First of all, I am not Chinese; not every Asian person is Chinese. But if I were, it does not mean I am carrying the coronavirus. It just means I am another person worried about the same thing. This affects everyone. So for you to give your fears license to be racist is foolish and unacceptable. It also makes you an asshole. I would suggest getting educated on this because you will get it from a white person while you’re busy targeting Asians. And when you do catch it, I hope you make it.”
He messed with the WRONG ASIAN.
As I turned and walked away, he yelled that I was also an asshole. I laughed. Good one, real creative.
As I got back to my room, I thought that we have ENTIRELY missed the point of this crisis and what it’s teaching us about our choices. We humans have been given dominion over the entire planet and all its inhabitants. It’s an awesome responsibility that we have not taken seriously or respectfully. I don’t care what race you are, what country you were raised in or what nationality you celebrate. We have all done this planet irreparable harm.
Consider the major epidemics in recent history and where they come from.
SARS: Bats and civet cats. MERS: Camels. H1N1: Pigs. Seasonal flu: Avian and swine sources.
COVID-19 started with a bat that infected an animal we shouldn’t have been in contact with in the first place. Live animal markets mixed with illegal wildlife trade offer an opportunity for viruses to cross from wildlife hosts into the human population. We are not supposed to be getting these diseases. The only reason we are is because we are not leaving these animals alone. I don’t know about you but it breaks my heart that we’re getting sick—and sometimes dying—from our own carelessness. The suffering we’ve brought to other living beings is being handed right back to us and now sits at our doorsteps.
What will we do next? What will we learn?
I want to be a human who feels first and thinks second. I want my heart to influence everything I do and every choice I make. I want to know I have the power to right injustice. I want to take a conscious daily and weekly decision and turn it into my lifestyle. I want to stand for the right of every living being to live by design and not by greed or opportunity.
This is not the first time Mother Nature has shown us that our exploitation of animals and the planet will not serve us—and will ultimately harm us.
I fear if we don’t fully accept our part, we won’t see our future beyond the survival of our mistakes. And my deepest hope is to unite as one human race for the betterment of this precious planet we have been given.
Let’s choose differently so we can heal this planet and ourselves. Together.
Image courtesy of ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg