It may be two weeks since Halloween, but Australian reporter Caroline Marcus’s recent costume referencing the coronavirus, a pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, has continued to create a stir on social media.
The Sky News reporter, who has since made her Instagram account private, initially shared photos of her and husband Jake holding boxes with the sign ‘Wuhan bats’ and the Chinese Yuan/Renminbi and Japanese Yen symbol. Their young son was also featured in the images, dressed in a bat costume.
“Because what could seriously be more terrifying in 2020 than a couple of Wuhan street vendors hawking one very edible bat?” Marcus captioned the social media post, along with emojis of a bat and a soup dish.
Fellow media personalities Melissa Hoyer and Jacinta Tynan described the costumes in the comments section as “the best”.
On Wednesday, journalist Lavender Baj posted images of the “horrible” costumes, condemning Marcus for involving her son in the “racist” depiction.
Marcus didn’t immediately respond to HuffPost Australia’s request for comment.
Racism against Asian-Australians has increased during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Since the outbreak, Chinese people and people of Asian appearance around the world have experienced verbal abuse and physical assault,” Jieh-Yung Lo, inaugural director of the Australian National University Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership, told HuffPost Australia.
Last month, the ANU’s Centre for Social Research and Methods and the Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership released research findings examining the discrimination faced by Asian-Australians during the pandemic.
Based on data of 3,043 adult Australians, of which 334 identified as having Asian ancestry, the research found 84.5% of Asian-Australians reported at least one instance of discrimination between January and October 2020, compared with 82% in August 2019.
Lo said “using geographical locations when naming illnesses stigmatises the people living there as well as those of similar appearances outside of that location,” and that he was “disappointed” to see Marcus feeding into this with her costume.
“Our research show Asian-Australians have been impacted by the pandemic more so than the rest of the Australian population. Stunts like this have the potential to increase discrimination levels and cause further harm to Asian-Australians’ economic, social and mental wellbeing and undermine our place and contribution to Australia,” he added.
“Media and public figures need to refrain from using images and language that fuel racism and xenophobia because if they don’t, it gives others an excuse to further legitimise hate and division – as we have seen in this instance with fellow media personalities Melissa Hoyer and Jacinta Tynan’s responses to the image”.
In February, a Sydney cafe apologised after it displayed an offensive sign that read, “The coronavirus won’t last long because it was made in China!!!”
A Melbourne nightclub also sparked backlash after advertising an event as a “Corona Chinese New Year Special”.
“Political leaders have a responsibility to not just stop the spread of COVID-19 in their countries but halt the rise of racism and xenophobia,” Lo said.
“By labelling COVID-19 as a ‘Chinese’ virus, President Trump is giving a license for further hate and division that we all know leads to further bigotry and xenophobia. He needs to realise the description he used reinforces a social stigma against people of Chinese origin that previously existed in countries like the US and Australia.”
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