And Latinos are not immune.
Racism is a human condition. It may get better, but it doesn’t go away. Historically, racism tends to rear its ugly head when pandemics strike, as we have seen lately. In the middle ages, Jews were blamed and persecuted for the black plague. Thousands of years later, antisemitic conspiracy theories about coronavirus are spreading in Turkey. Hate crimes against Asians have increased around the world since the pandemic hit. By now you may have read about comparisons of COVID-19 with the 1918 flu pandemic. To this day some call it the Spanish flu, even though it didn’t originate in Spain. Novel Coronavirus may have originated in China, but neither of these viruses has a nationality. They are microscopic beings that live inside animals and then jump to humans. There is no reason to issue them a passport.
Scapegoating is a form of racism. It helps governments find someone to blame, deflect responsibility and keep people in line. It has been used by regimes through the ages because it’s a highly effective mode of mass manipulation. When a specific group out of the general population is officially discriminated against and ostracized, the rest is emboldened to feel both superior and afraid that this is how their government may treat them if they don’t toe the line. As a policy, antisemitism and racism worked wonders for the nazis. They helped keep the German people in check. Lashing out at the other gives people a false sense of control, but all they’re doing is venting their fear and frustration by finding someone to blame.
It is not surprising then that the current president of the United States—an unabashed racist—has employed epithets like “the Chinese Virus” when speaking about Coronavirus.
Racists have an instinctive understanding of the effect they cause. They know full well that they fan the flames of fear and hatred with their pronouncements. It gives them power. Trump has not only not done anything to condemn this dangerous rhetoric; he is actively stoking it.
Even worse, he lies while doing it:
He sets the tone. As if on cue, a White House official who should be named and shamed told a CBS reporter that Novel Coronavirus was called the “Kung Flu.”
This kind of rhetoric normalizes and spreads racism like a virus. The only cure is rational thinking.
Latinos are not immune to racism. Unfortunately, we give as good as we get. We don’t like it when others discriminate against us but we are seldom aware of our own ingrained prejudices. Not long ago, President Trump was singling out all Mexicans as criminals and rapists, and hurling abuse and paper towels at Puerto Ricans in need. Alas, this has not stopped deeply unfunny memes in Spanish about the “Chinese” virus from proliferating in social media. I’ve seen piñatas in the form of the virus with stereotypical Chinese faces, and tasteless jokes with rancid stereotypes about Chinese people. I am just as offended by how unfunny as by how ignorant, irresponsible and racist they are. As a rule of thumb, racism is not funny. It lands with a thud, but like a highly infectious virus, it spreads fast. Going from a supposedly harmless joke to shunning and attacking innocent people is not a big leap. It’s only the beginning.
We all are susceptible to harboring irrational fears about others. If we are sensible people, we think twice before broadcasting them. We don’t like it when someone calls us names, blames us for their lack of employment or for other issues that have to do more with their own failings and resentments. Let’s not do the same to others. We can counter fear and ignorance with facts and logic. Let’s keep our prejudices in check.