Racializing the Coronavirus: How President Trump’s Description of it as the “Chinese” Virus validates racial hatred.

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This past week, President Trump doubled down on his description of the Coronavirus by calling it the “Chinese” Virus for two straight days at the White House coronavirus task force’s daily news briefing.  Trump defended the term by saying, “It’s not racist at all.  No, not at all.  It comes from China, that’s why.  It comes from China.  I want to be accurate”.  

As an Asian-American psychotherapist and workshop facilitator on multicultural issues, what Trump doesn’t understand is his terminology is indirectly blaming the virus on the Chinese by targetting it’s the geographic and cultural origin.  It puts a face, a culture, and a country as the ones to blame for this world-wide pandemic.  

It’s “racist” in the sense of racializing this disease and negatively implicating the Chinese people and the larger Asian global community at large.  Yes, it started in China but by calling it the “Chinese” virus he is perpetuating the fear, hatred, and in some cases, violence against Chinese and Asians worldwide as non-Asians are not in the habit of discerning Asian ethnic differences.

His verbal condemnation and blaming of China for this virus reinforces a larger issue many ethnic minorities face in the U.S. which is that of “White privilege”, a term coined by Sociologist Dr. Robin DiAngelo.  This is highlighted with his comment of “it’s not racist” and the inability to hear how the Asian community feels about the impact this has on them.  This is no different, when a Black or Latino person may want to give feedback to a white colleague that their language, comments, or jokes are inappropriate but instead of showcasing cultural humility, oftentimes the white individual will get upset and become even more defensive by stating any number of the following comments:

  • “You’re playing the race card”.
  • “It wasn’t intended to be racist.”
  • “I don’t see it that way”.
  • “I’ll be the judge of that (whether it was racist or not)”
  • “I disagree”
  • “It was a harmless/innocent comment”.
  • “You’re over-reacting” or “You’re taking this too seriously.

Trump’s defense of using the comment is his belief that “it’s not racist”?  While not racist in the conventional sense of burning a cross on the lawn of a Black homeowner, or yelling racist epithets at people, it’s still racist in the sense of indirectly reminding Chinese and other ethnic minorities that the White majority gets to decide what is or isn’t racist.  The comment itself comes from Trump who is in a place of White privilege in terms of coming from a race who can make that blanket decision based on institutional power, privilege, and protection.

While level-headed White Americans may ignore Trump’s comments and revel in the fact that they aren’t like him, what’s often lost in these discussions about individual acts of racism are the pernicious and invisible systemic and institutional powers that continue to promote, dissemate, and keep White Americans in a place of racial leverage against their fellow ethnic Americans.

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  1. billy_gates says:

    Hi Sam, just saw you on KOMO. You must admit that the Chinese government bears a massive responsibility for this world wide pandemic and that was readily preventable. THEY permitted the outdoor markets that scientists have warned against for decades, THEY punished doctors that claimed this was particularly nasty, far more virulent and intense than normal flu, THEY hid this from the WHO for a month, and THEY facilitated moving passengers from afflicted areas throughout the world in spite of knowing the infection would spread. This is all shameful and criminal behavior. Effectively, these careless actions have destroyed the world economy in a way that hasn’t been seen in 100 years. And yes, some people did this to the world on purpose. I don’t like what Trump says. But please, this pandemic isn’t an accident.

    Finally, NYT reports we have senior people in the Chinese military claiming this flu was engineered by the US military. Withouot a shred of evidence. Is that accusation not horrible and far worse than what Trump has said?

    All things considered, China’s offenses here are a million on a scale of 1 to 10. Trump’s are a 1. Perspective, please.

    BTW, good job on the KOMO piece. You played it perfectly.

  2. Sam says:

    I agree. China is a communist country spreading propaganda that is also unconscionable. However, labeling it as the Chinese Virus is emboldening racist verbal and physical assaults on Chinese (and other Asians) in the U.S. and worldwide. Sure this might pale in comparison to those affected (sick and killed) but it just reinforces and gives permission that anyone can mock, ridicule, and target Asians.

    On a side-note, Trump used a mocking Asian accent when he said “China” at one point, once again tacitly communicating to the rest of the world you can do the same (i.e. If the president can mock the Chinese, why can’t I?).

    I work with enough ethnic clients to know there’s a history of racial teasing and bullying at schools (more so if there are few other minorities there) and this only encourages and fuels it. thanks for the feedback.

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