Calling Covid-19 by its Name is Part of Anti-Racism Work

Usually, I don’t recommend that people answer racist remarks with fact, but I am going to make an exception here, and show you how to do it.

The story:

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I love. She’s an honorable woman who lives near New Bedford, Massachusetts, where there is a large immigrant population. She’s a justice warrior who is actively working for prison reform in that area. She is from northwest European stock with some of her family qualifying for “Daughters of the American Revolution.”

She told me a story about how she heard a tirade about Covid-19. Someone in a local store called the contagion ‘Wuhan virus.” He went on about how “those Chinese…and those immigrants who are coming across the border…” were to blame and how it’s his livelihood that suffers during shelter-at-home advisory.

She told me that she just left, and said nothing. She is someone who freezes in the moment and has problems coming up with the right thing to say.

I asked her to consider, instead, preparing herself to say things like this:

  • When someone says “Wuhan virus, or Chinese virus, or Kung flu” say, “Do you mean Covid-19, or SARS-Cov2, or novel Coronavirus? (Use the one you are used to using.)
  • When someone talks about Chinese people spreading it, mention that in Eastern Massachusetts, the person who first infected people was an American from western European heritage from Tennessee.
  • For people who are saying that the virus is a hoax, mention examples in Europe, not Asia (like England, Italy, and Spain). People who consider western Europeans the only legitimate Americans will relate better to stories from countries where their ancestors came from.
  • If the person you are talking to is someone who agrees to hear your opinion, consider sharing this speech by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

You are not going to change anyone’s mind about this. However, you can erode their certainty by calmly adding another set of information. Some will look it up, some won’t.

The Anti-Defamation League held a program on March 26 regarding anti-Asian racism. You can watch the whole presentation. Below is a section about Covid-19 that appeared on their website.

Interrupt racist stories about who is to blame. Push back on people who use coded or racist language to talk about this moment. Specifically, when you hear people use the phrases “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “Kung flu,” have a respectful and clear conversation about the racist and factually incorrect nature of this harmful scapegoating. Check out these stories about the increase in hate crimes against people of Asian descent herehere and here

Where we get our news is important. It shifts the frame of the issues. Pay attention to progressive-leaning news sources rather than only the corporate news media. Some examples include Democracy Now and the Irresistible Podcast. Seek out articles written by disabled & Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous and People of Color activists in your community. source

Also, please read White People: Standing Up to Anti-Asian Racism During a Pandemic.

This is how to have a factual conversation. If the relationship does not support that kind of conversation, please see the more peripheral comments above that are appropriate for even strangers.

Bystander Intervention and violence

If you look at the links about violence, herehere and here, please remember that we are currently isolated. There are fewer people on the buses and subways now.

There will be people out of work, once we leave home again. Some of those people will be looking for someone to blame. Asians from China, and people who look like Asians from China in a general way, will be targeted in larger numbers, once we are on the street in larger numbers.

Please prepare to be part of the solution.




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