Powers of Discrimination & SARS

by Yule Heibel on March 31, 2003

Here in Victoria British Columbia, our local paper, The Times-Colonist, included an article about SARS’s effect on one of the city’s private girls’ school. St. Margaret’s, which on March 31 ended a two-week spring break, is asking 18 of its students to wear surgical masks when they return to school. The girls in question are Asian and the school worries that they might have been in contact with SARS while visiting relatives in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Island-based Victoria, while slightly off the beaten superhighway of mainland Vancouver, is nonetheless home to a significant Asian population and a glorious, thriving Chinatown at its heart. What an interesting situation: how would you feel, as a 6- or 12-year old girl, one of 18 in a school of 434, about having to wear a surgical mask to class? How would you feel if all the other 17 girls had, as you do, black hair and almond-shaped eyes, while through the school halls the majority, freckled and blonde, continued unmasked? When the HIV virus began manifesting among the homosexual population of the west, it also seemed easy to pick out carriers or potential liabilities. Has it helped us to use our human powers of discrimination in this way? Not really. Have we helped less fortunate nations, particularly in Africa, where AIDS is exploding into such mega-dimensions as to worry even the CIA about the global instability that’s in store, to conquer this scourge? Nope. Could our powers of discrimination help us to see our way to preventing the further unfolding of this disaster? Perhaps. Death and disease do not discriminate. Eventually, we’re all going through the turnstile, regardless of race, financial status, orientation, gender. In the interim, we discriminate — that is: discern, think, differentiate — in myriad ways to protect ourselves. But we show the limits of our powers of discrimination when we end up cultivating just our little piece of turf. And while death does not discriminate, we have learned to do so in many ways, often negatively, and have translated this survival instinct into all areas of our lives and called it meaning. We use it in higher thinking, art, philosophy, religion, international finance, politics, relations with the local Chamber of Commerce, the sublime, the ridiculous, and in every situation where a cross-road presents itself. Our steps here make up our qualitative relationship to life. Discrimination is a thinking tool that can make your paths larger or smaller. Faced with SARS, who needs discrimination that’s fueled by fear and used to heighten racial profiling and prejudice?

{ 1 comment }

Janice Preston April 1, 2003 at 8:21 am

Congratulations, Yule!

I found the site very thought provoking, and will use your definition of the word discrimination, whenever I can. (The word discrimination so often holds only a negative definition.) I will most certainly have the opportunity soon, as I am one of 3 chaperones taking 9 BHS students, aged 13-17 yrs., to Albertville, France April 13-25! As the day approaches, and if the world situation still allows us to make the trip, we will have many opportunities to discuss the world events and the world’s opinion of the American government’s actions, and Americans in general.
My goal will be to help our group, and those families and students we meet, not to discriminate in a negative manner against each other!

On the issue of the local Asian students being asked to wear surgical masks; Perhaps a movement by other students at the school, to don surgical masks of their own, in protest and support, for their classmates, might evoke the support chemotherapy patients experience when their friends and family members shave their heads in solidarity for the person undergoing chemo?
I realize also that it might, without careful PR, look as if the other students were just trying to protect themselves from the ‘potential health threat’ of the Asian students.

I’ll check in from time to time to watch your site evolve!
Jan Preston

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