By Elaine Dunn
Yellow Peril, take two.
Video clips of Asian Americans describing being spat upon, told to ”take your virus and go home,” sworn a, given the evil eye, or worse, had been making the email circuits the past few months. Along with Beijing, anti-Trumpers were quick to get on their soapboxes denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump for calling the dreaded virus the “Chinese / Wuhan” virus, thereby fueling the anti-Chinese sentiment. But was Trump really the instigator?
Any cursory online search would show mainstreet broadcast media (ABC, CBS, MSNBC and others) with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Alisyn Camerota, Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon leading the charge using those very terms throughout January 2020! Media Research Center has compiled a two-minute video that shows a host of media figures using “Wuhan coronavirus” or “Chinese coronavirus” even after the same media figures attacked the president and other Republicans for being racist using those same exact terms.
Print and online media fared no better.
Further, according to the Media Research Center, a Nexis search turned up more than 10,000 uses of “Wuhan coronavirus” around the world, including media outlets in Asia and Europe. New York Times, Washington Post, Sacramento Bee and others ran headlines such as:
“Japan and Thailand Confirm New Cases of Chinese Coronavirus,” The New York Times, 1/15/20
“First U.S. case of potentially deadly Chinese coronavirus confirmed in Washington state,” Washington Post, 1/21/20
“Chinese coronavirus outbreak has reached U.S. shores, CDC says,” Los Angeles Times, 1/21/20
“The First Case Of The Chinese Coronavirus Has Hit The US, CDC Reports,” Buzzfeed, 1/21/20
“First U.S. Case Reported of Deadly Wuhan Virus,” Wall Street Journal, 1/22/20
“With Wuhan virus genetic code in hand, scientists begin work on a vaccine,” Reuters, 1/24/20
“The Wuhan Virus: How to Stay Safe,” Foreign Policy, 1/25/20
“China coronavirus ‘spreads before symptoms show,’” BBC, 1/26/20
“Chinese coronavirus infections, death toll soar as fifth case is confirmed in U.S.,” Washington Post, 1/26/20
“Something Far Deadlier Than The Wuhan Virus Lurks Near You,” USA Today, 1/29/20
“What to know about China coronavirus outbreak,” Sacramento Bee, 1/30/20
On Feb 11, the World Health Organization issued a memo to “de-stigmatize” the coronavirus. “[T]his is not a ‘Wuhan Virus,’ ‘Chinese Virus’ or ‘Asian Virus,’” it said. “The official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization – the ‘co’ stands for Corona, ‘vi’ for virus and ‘d’ for disease, 19 is because the disease emerged in 2019.”
However, by then, print and online media had already been bandying the “Wuhan/Chinese coronavirus” term around for close to two months.
But why did Trump insist on labeling COVID-19 “Chinese coronavirus” even after the WHO memo came out? According to the president, he wanted to be “accurate.”
The U.S. national security adviser insisted the birthplace of the virus was China. "This virus did not originate in the United States, it originated in Wuhan," he insisted on March 11.
While the now-normal, daily “Trump/GOP is racist” rants are going on within the U.S., the Chinese propaganda machine was suggesting on Chinese social media “the U.S. army may have brought the deadly coronavirus into China,” with not a shred of evidence to support its claim whatsoever. One of the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson even repeated this on Twitter on March 13!
So, is attaching a geographical location to a disease indicative of “racism”?
History shows COVID-19 would not be the first disease to have a geographical location attached to it. Previous examples include the 2015 U.S. outbreak of Ebola (named after a river in Zaire), German measle (outbreaks in 1964 and 1965 infected more than 12 million in the U.S.), the late 1960s Hong Kong flu, and the 1918-1920 outbreak of the Spanish flu in Europe), Lyme disease (1970s outbreak in Lyme, Conn.), 2012 MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (known as such since 1920s), St. Louis encephalitis (the 1930s epidemic that emerged in Missouri) and the West Nile virus (first identified patient was from North Uganda in 1937). Actually, German measles did not even originate from Germany! Rubella was so named because it was German physicians who first identified it! Similarly, the coverage and reporting of the Spanish flu outbreak was minimized in Germany, the UK, France and the U.S. Neutral Spain was the scapegoat because its King Alfonso XIII was gravely ill with it. Bum rap, indeed!
Did the big “R” word come up in those earlier instances? Or is the current hue and cry over “Wuhan /Chinese coronavirus” a sign of current times? As one cable channel used to say, “We report; you decide.”
Since kindergarten, we’ve all been taught the “Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
So … you would think the Chinese and Chinese government who protested loud and often about the U.S. calling COVID-19 the Wuhan/Chinese coronavirus would exhibit empathy toward foreigners? Heck no!
The Chinese government had banned the entry of virtually all foreigners, including diplomats and individuals with residence permits.
Foreigners, especially those of African descent, have been reporting increasing incidents of hostility and discrimination in China since the coronavirus pandemic. See “notice” below shown to black customers at a McDonald’s in the city of Guangzhou. (McDonald’s had apologized for the incident since and temporarily closed the branch to “educate managers and employees.”)
An April 14 article in the International Business Times reported:
“Black Africans in Guangzhou have long suffered racism and discrimination
Guangzhou’s African community had been evicted from their homes and apartments
African governments and diplomats have expressed their outrage over the incidents”
Racism against black people is common in and not new to China. Its history dates back decades, unfortunately. Africans are generally perceived by many mainland Chinese as “dirty” and “uncivilized.”
The African ambassadors in Beijing jointly wrote and sent a letter to China's Foreign Ministry. “The singling out of Africans for compulsory testing and quarantine, in our view, has no scientific or logical basis and amounts to racism towards Africans in China,” it said. In addition, Chinese ambassadors in a dozen African countries were summoned by their host governments to address Africans being “mistreated and harassed” in China.
The McDonald’s incident is not an isolated incident. There are reports of foreigners being tested multiple times without given results, evicted from their apartments, banned from hotels or held under house arrest, all under the guise of “anti-virus measures.” BBC News in Hong Kong reported that the African community in Guangzhou had shrunk from hundreds of thousands to just thousands.
The Globe and Mail had also reported Europeans, Indians and Americans around Beijing have been told to “stay away” by Chinese citizens as well as denied in-home service calls by repairmen. They also have been refused entry to fitness facilities and restaurants.
Despite what is going on, for some reason most mainland Chinese do not consider themselves racists. They look on racism as a “western problem” only and that it does not exist in China. They look at themselves as victims, not the perpetrators of racism.
An April 8 editorial in China Daily proclaimed, “There have been cases of Asians or Chinese being attacked or verbally abused in some countries. But there have been no cases of foreigners being maltreated in such a way on the Chinese mainland.” As stated before, “We report, you decide.”
At the end of the day, how governments and citizens respond to the COVID-19 pandemic should all be based on basic human decency. Stigma and discrimination have no place in society, ever, especially during a global public health crisis where consideration for and cooperation among all is the pat to seeing us through.