York University in Toronto, Canada has released a study that shows how rhetorical mechanisms and tropes spread racism.
Fuyuki Kurasawa, a social sciences professor, at a virtual symposium hosted by the York Centre for Asian Research explained this week that there is "expression of forms of xenophobia or anti-Chinese … and anti-Asian sentiment often under the guise of criticism of China … or the Chinese Communist Party in a way that is deliberately incendiary.
"That's certainly been a part of the racialisation of the virus and racialisation of the pandemic as we all know," he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a kind of legitimacy to the expression of overt and sometimes more covert forms of such racism, which has led to physical and digital attacks on people of Asian ethnicity and has riven societies in the West since 2020.
He said the rhetoric ranges "all the way to forms of white supremacy and outright conspiracy theories (that) are explicitly racist," said Kurasawa. "And this infodemic is a huge part of what is occurring with a kind of racist epidemic that is anti-Asian and specifically anti-Chinese."
According to Kurasawa, there hasn't been much overt or explicit racism because such expressions have become socially unacceptable in North America and Europe.
Social media platforms also have policies that ban or filter certain words or expressions of hate.
Instead, there's an "elusive racism" or "allusive racism" operating through various rhetorical mechanisms.
For example, "categorical conflation" often refers interchangeably to China not only as a country, but to the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese people in general.
Such rhetoric imputes responsibility not only to the Chinese state and the Party, but also to Chinese people for the viral outbreak and for the global spread of the coronavirus and the resulting deaths in Western countries.
"We're seeing the kind of attribution of certain characteristics which are both easily attributed to a government entity or a political party, but also to a whole ethnic or racial group," said Kurasawa.
"So again, the use of racially adjacent or racially elusive phrases such as Chinese virus, China flu was very prominent and overwhelmingly the kind of sentiment that was expressed when the term China or even Chinese was being expressed on all platforms (and) was incredibly negative in various ways."
"Dog whistling", a subtle way of signaling a racist reference to others with the same belief, is another rhetorical mechanism, he said.
Kurasawa accused former US president Donald Trump of such expressions with his pejorative references to China amid the pandemic.
"And this became so prevalent that in some ways the dog whistling became not only whistling that could be only heard by a certain group of people but also was really quite open and that could be heard by others," said Kurasawa.