Let me put several statements out, to begin with. I’m not a huge fan of Bryan Adams; there are a couple of his songs that I won’t turn off when they come onto the radio, but most I don’t enjoy. I am, generally, rather ambivalent about him. However, while I think it is nice to see a Canadian artist being successful, I am, from my home in Newfoundland, physically closer to Prague than I am to Adams’ home in Vancouver. Likewise, I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, and am not a fan of his militant views on the consumption of meat; however I do respect his right to have an opinion.
Having established that I am not an acolyte of Mr. Adams, I would like to take up the latest internet outrage. In our modern society of rushing to be offended, Adams kicked off a storm of controversy by posting a fairly immature tweet, instigated by the frustration many of us are feeling due to this lockdown, “CUTS LIKE A KNIFE. A song by me. Tonight was supposed to be the beginning of a tenancy of gigs at the @royalalberthall, but thanks to some **** bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards, the whole world is now on hold, not to mention the thousands that have suffered or died from this virus. My message to them other than ‘thanks a ***** lot’ is go vegan…”
Now, does he sound like a petulant and spoiled rich artist? Absolutely! While he is whining about missing out on performing a series of shows, we have had 292,000 deaths to date, worldwide, and millions upon millions of lower- and middle-class people have been forced into economic hardship or are risking their health while going to their jobs. Is he likely incorrect in his rantings about a wet market bat? Quite possibly! Is he being racist? No. He simply did not say anything racist in the tweet. The level of scouring for offense that one needs to engage in to come away with this tweet being a racist rant against Chinese people is foolish. His obvious intent was to impinge anyone who eats meat by suggesting that the virus transmission was due to the consumption of a bat. We don’t know what animal the virus came to humans through; we know that this particular strain had been found in bats, but it could easily have transmitted to another animal first before jumping to humans. Beyond that, consuming meat (if it is cooked properly) would not likely have any coronavirus in it, and experts have repeatedly stated that this is not a virus that is transmitted via eating. If you are to catch it from food, it would more likely be caused by an infected person breathing/coughing on your food after it was cooked. There is a suggestion that the virus may have jumped from a living bat at a “wet market”, or some other animal. And while this is possible, we actually do not know how it ended up in the human population. Whether it was from a wet market or just from contact between a human and another animal is not currently known, and might never be known.
Racism is a very real issue in our society, and there have been racist comments made about this topic by a variety of people. There have also even been physical assaults and vandalism committed against people of Chinese ethnicity by people in response to this pandemic. While racist comments and hate crimes should be denounced whenever they happen, we cannot overreact to every imagined slight. If you have to work that hard to find the insult in the comment, then it would be better to stop and actually look at the multitude of people who are actually offering very real racism and hatred. We need to take a step back, as a society, and recognize that overreacting to non-insults simply creates an environment where people will become immune to the outrage and might not condemn actual insults and hatred that is being directed at people every day.
Mr. Adams was factually wrong in repeating the unverified claim that the virus was transmitted from a bat at a wet market. He demonstrated an incredible lack of sensitivity to the millions of people who have it far worse than his privileged life has afforded him. However, his target was not people of Chinese background, his target was people who eat meat. He is not being a racist with his comment, he was just expressing a political opinion on food. I don’t agree with his opinion, but I do agree that he has every right to express it.
Eamonn Brosnan is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.