Controversy

Is referring to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” racist?

 
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Mar 19 10:37 pm

Suzanne (No it's not)

In the current outrage culture we inhabit, no wonder yet another thing has been labeled “racist.” Democrats Ilhan Omar and Kamala Harris tweeted that calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is “racist” [1,2], but the problem with this is twofold: if we start labeling everything as racist, then the label loses value. Second, this claim is hypocritical and is a clear partisan attempt by one party to continually demean the other as racist. Up until President Trump referenced COVID-19 by that accurate descriptor did countless in the media also call it the “Chinese virus,” “the Wuhan coronavirus,” or some similar variation [3,4,5]. 

Referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese/Wuhan virus” isn’t about demonizing people of a certain ethnicity. It’s about highlighting the virus’s true and accurate origin. This is historically/globally precedented: West Nile virus, German measles, Hong Kong flu, Spanish flu, Ebola, just to name a few. But more importantly, as it relates to COVID-19, it’s about the Chinese government’s horrific handling of this situation. China’s corruption, deception, and oppression of its own citizens created this global catastrophe [6,7,8,9,10]. 

What’s more alarming than the constant claims of “racism” by politicians and media pundits is that they’re more inclined to back the obvious propaganda from the authoritarian, human-rights-abusing communist Chinese regime [11,12,13]. Calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is a direct refutation of the active attempt by China to blame the spread on the U.S. [14], shifting their responsibility for this mess [15]. 

In the end, it’s moral to call COVID-19 the Chinese virus. It’s a condemnation of the regime, not the people. 

 

Ivan (Yes it is)

A poem by Chinese poet Li-Young Lee reminds us of language’s ability to implicitly express bias when he recalls a teacher describing a persimmon as a “Chinese apple.” [1] The teacher sees the persimmon through her American understanding of fruit rather than trying to understand it on its own terms.

During these strange times of the coronavirus pandemic, the term “Chinese virus” has sprung into usage. I would argue--even more than Lee’s example--the term is inherently racist. While there are viruses named for specific landmarks connected to origin, the Ebola virus, for example, being named for the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [2], the use of “Chinese virus” doesn’t just conjure place; it addresses an ethnic group. And in doing so, it implicitly suggests the group’s responsibility for the virus, which is an insupportable notion considering the happenstance of virus formation.

To associate coronavirus with an ethnic group not only belies the act of nature that is virus development, but also creates a Xenophobic understanding of the ethnicity. The Chinese are no more responsible for the rise of the virus than Mexicans are for swine flu [3] or the Congolese are for Ebola. Note that we didn’t call these “Mexican virus” or “Congolese virus.”

Finally, such xenophobic labels are not only racist, but also dangerous. Anger about the pandemic has led to people lashing out at Asians, as was reported from London where a 23-year-old Asian student was beaten by a group of men who yelled, “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.” [4]

Fact Box

  • ‘Racism’ is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior” [1].
  • ‘Coronavirus’ is a type of virus that existed before COVID-19. COVID-19 specifically refers to the virus behind the 2020 pandemic. [2]
  • With an uptick in the number of worldwide hate crimes against Asians in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the human rights chief of the U.N. has urged member states to fight ‘virus-spawned discrimination’. [3]
  • Experts say COVID-19 originated in China. [4]

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