18 Mar 2020 #COVID19 How experiences of exclusion may lead to more empathy
At this uncertain time, when our news screens are flooded by increasing cases of those affected by the coronavirus and the risks associated with this current pandemic, Italy finds itself in an unprecedented situation as the crisis continues to unfold taking more and more lives.
All over the world, we are increasingly aware that, as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a few days ago, we are at the mercy of a global pandemic that in the coming weeks will likely become an all the more challenging situation to contain.
As we think of our loved ones in isolation in Italy and elsewhere, Italians abroad have witnessed discrimination from those around us who are suspicious of our accent, our language and its newfound association the virus which sparks fear in others who now see us as potential ‘spreaders’ of the covid-19. Themes from Manzoni’s famous novel ‘The Betrothed’ on the Italian plague, and of others who have similarly described the terrible epidemics of previous centuries have now become startlingly current.
We have become the “others”, those who can infect, those who carry disease with them. For once it is not the people who come from the poorest areas of the world who are infected but it is predominately Westerners from countries with advanced healthcare facilities which are struggling to contain the virus. Indeed, the spread of coronavirus has made us realise just how quickly our lives can be turned on its head and how our nationality alone can be enough to trigger prejudiced responses.
Usually, the Italian passport is a Western document which allows for free movement around the world but today it has become somewhat of a scarlet letter as a result of this global pandemic. The number of states banning entry to Italian citizens is steadily increasing and has given us a first-hand insight into the experience of having borders closed to you.
Today we are the outsiders and, having experienced this discrimination, I hope that when everything returns to normal we will be able to show more empathy as a result to those who are rejected, isolated and discriminated against at our borders. I also hope that this experience will force us to realize how helpless we are in the face of imminent threat whether that be a global pandemic or conflict if we do not have the support of others, and, how challenging it is to be separated from, or fear for the lives of loved ones.
I hope that we can overcome this crisis together and that this will, in fact, be an opportunity for individual growth which will allow us to reflect on the importance of equality in our world without discrimination on the basis one’s ethnicity or nationality.