Typically, I am an avid news consumer. If a story breaks, I get a notification. When I wake up I read a digital newspaper, and when I go to bed I read an update on the most intriguing story from that morning.
Last week, I avoided the news altogether.
While I would check for breaking headlines every once in a while, the weight of COVID-19 filled every minute of every broadcast. Between the press conferences and briefings and interviews with scientists, I could barely stand to hear the phrases “social distancing” and “wash your hands.”
On Friday, instead of consuming endless hours of depressing stories, I turned on the television to watch anything unrelated to coronavirus. As soon as I pressed the power button, the screen went black. “Breaking News from the White House”—an increasingly normal occurrence.
I continued watching, curious to see how Donald Trump would address the nation during these uncertain times. I hoped for encouraging words, a sense of solace. Instead, in only the first minute, ignorance followed.
“I thank you all for joining us, and I’d like to begin by providing an update on what we are doing to minimize the impact of the Chinese virus on our nation’s students,” President Trump said.
The Chinese virus. I was appalled. The president of the United States attributed COVID-19, a pandemic killing thousands of people and affecting the daily lives of American citizens of every shade, to a single ethnicity.
Upon further research, I found Trump had used this phrase before and faced backlash. Yet he continued to use the phrase. Last Wednesday, a reporter directly asked the president why he continued to use the phrase, considering the bias some have against Chinese people in this country.
“It’s not racist at all, no not at all,” Trump said. “It comes from China. That’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”
At the same briefing, another reporter asked the president about a White House official referring to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu.” According to reports from the New York Times, the president “skirted that question before asserting that the Chinese ‘probably would agree’ with the coronavirus as the ‘Chinese’ virus, though Chinese officials have made it clear they do not.”
Usually, I ignore racial comments made by the president, but attributing an entire illness to a single group of people has the potential to incite fear and violence against Chinese people. This is dangerous.
After 9/11, violent actions and assault against Muslim people spiked. According to the Pew Research Center, America deals with those repercussions today.
“The number of assaults against Muslims in the United States rose significantly between 2015 and 2016, easily surpassing the modern peak reached in 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks,” the Pew study states.
While these instances are vastly different, instilling bias against a group of people is not productive, especially when the country has roughly 2.5 million Chinese-born American citizens. Using phrases like the “Chinese virus” and Kung Flu” will not help the situation. If anything, this will cause division between countries during a time when global unity is essential.
I frequently write about the power of words; this is no different. Associating human beings—souls—with a pandemic causes us to fortify our racial walls which we should be breaking down.
Even though this pandemic is unprecedented, we have to stay sane and continue to call out racism when we see it. While we have no control over the president’s words, we do have control over what we say. We do have the power to speak up when we witness a person we know blame an ethnicity for COVID-19. Name-calling and bigotry will not bring the world closer together; love will.