On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a joint press conference to discuss the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the city: a healthcare worker from Manhattan, who had contracted the illness in Iran. The 39-year-old woman had behaved in a “textbook way” according to Cuomo. In order to keep from contaminating others, she avoided public transportation and immediately sought out testing in a hospital. While the arrival of coronavirus in New York was alarming, it was also clear that this wasn’t an irresponsible patient zero who’d trigger a breakout.
The diagnosis was widely reported, and publications like the New York Post and New York Times provided helpful information about containment of the virus, but the stock photography was anything but helpful. Despite the fact that the patient in question had been exposed to the virus in Iran, the photos used for the articles showed Asian men and women in masks and had been taken in Chinatown.
But at worst, it serves as racist fear-mongering that can provoke incidents of physical violence against Asian people in America. New York State Assemblymember, Yuh-Line Niou, whose district includes Manhattan’s Chinatown, told Refinery29 that using images of Asian people in articles that aren’t related in any way to China reinforces xenophobia. There have been no cases of coronavirus reported in her district, but Niou says that businesses in Chinatown are suffering. In response, she’s joined with other community leaders to encourage people to eat and shop in her district, taking part in events like dim sum crawls with the hashtag #dineinchinatown.
“So the problem with using stock imagery of Asians in an article that is otherwise informative is that it perpetuates very dangerous stereotypes without getting the proper information out there.”