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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Coronavirus Epidemic: Racism Against Asians

Once again, the American public has witnessed Trump’s racism while in the throes of a crisis in his assertion that coronavirus is a ‘Chinese disease.’ I’ve heard several responses to this, ranging from the fact that it is racist to the assertion that it is ‘only tone deaf’ to stating ‘well, it is from China.’ The fact that any American is willing to minimize the impact of this statement indicates a dangerous proclivity to making excuses for a racist president who is leading a largely racist administration. Whether or not Trump meant it as racist— intent (and some of us believe he did) — the actual impact is dangerous. Impact matters more. Trump’s rhetoric falls much too close to rhetoric that is exhibited by genocidal leaders and which leads to actual genocide. As a democratic society, each one of us has a responsibility to expose this; minimization guarantees it will happen again.

At this point, the coronavirus is clearly pandemic. One particular reality about pandemics is that resources will be limited: that is, there will be less of necessary items than there are people who need them. This reality will naturally cause panic and, as a result, a grasp for those resources. The psychological process is less reasonable, conveying the panic. The psychological phenomenon is so real that people are buying toilet paper — an item least likely to save one in times of disaster — which psychologists believe is a response to uncertainty and fear which humans use to negotiate a complete lack of control. As such, the population requires a leader who can simultaneously calm the population and convey honesty while reminding people to be civil to each other.

Trump does the opposite. He employs Macchiavellian, zero-sum, conquest-oriented thought processes in knee-jerk fashion; it is as if he cannot imagine the application of morals and basic humanity. His immediate response to this deadly, worldwide pandemic is to blame Chinese people. This plug for dehumanization is a low-grade, midbrain response to fear and resource diminishment: things are running out, so how do I get more for me? Trump, always the Macchiavellian master, leads the general public with knee-jerk, midbrain responses as if he doesn’t even know that other responses which bring society together are even possible.

Note that, when Asians are ‘blamed,’ there is a tendency among the population to think of them as ‘bad’ and, as a corollary, others as ‘innocent.’ If this behavior continues, the next logical step — or a step that will likely happen in the future — will be to give those limited resources to ‘innocent’ people, not the ones who brought the disease and who, as Trump frames it, may be intrinsic purveyors of it. This fundamental Macchiavellianism is a preemptive strike of the lower-order human midbrain: in other words, in advance Trump names the guilty party as ‘Asian/other,’ thus justifying, at this basic level, providing lesser or no resources to them. I find this to be an automated response of the brain that has trained itself to perceive others as competitors only and to minimize their humanity in order to maximize one’s gain. It has no value at all in a panicked society.

The employment of language which Trump uses on a regular basis can be classified as genocidal speech. Genocide Watch lists ten stages of genocidal behaviors, and #4/10 is ‘Dehumanization,’ which is achieved by telling the larger population that the minority is ‘diseased,’ or like ‘insects,’ among other dehumanizing speech, that is, rhetorical, processes. Trump has done this for many, many years, and continues this pre-genocidal/genocidal speech and behavior even during an international emergency. This tactic, which is one societies tend to employ when resources are limited, allows for the shifting of resources to actual ‘human’ and away from the ‘other’ who is now classified as ‘subhuman.’ Now, more resources are available to the ‘real humans.’ Trump has started this process with the words ‘Chinese virus.’ The fact that he’s done the same with many other races and ethnicities only underlines his wholly war-like stance towards the human race.

But the fact that many people eagerly grasp this belief — or deny its import by pointing to ‘intent’ rather than focusing on the all-important impact — points to a much more worrisome fact in the United States: that Americans are all too eager to point to POC’s and to name them, at the first mention of these distorted words, ‘other.’ Americans have an obligation to act in democratic fashion if we believe this is a functional democracy. That means that when one’s leader starts to speak in genocidal fashion, ALL members of society should be pushing back. The focus on ‘intent’ often disregards the ‘impact.’ In other words, it is largely irrelevant that the virus ‘came from China’ or that some people (likely NOT Asians, or any POC with the experience of discrimination) claim that this is merely ‘tone deaf.’

There is no excuse for genocidal talk: it leads to the murder of large swathes of people. During this time of crisis, we cannot afford Macchiavellians whose speech patterns and beliefs reveal an onerous desire to damage others. As Americans, I recommend we all perceive his words with proper gravity and actively act to make sure that we do not adopt these dangerous thought patterns.

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