Via Gage Skidmore | Flickr
To curb the possibility of racially profiling Asian populations, the World Health Organization has long been asking that people avoid calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or any other name that singles out a specific location or group of people. But that hasn’t stopped President Donald Trump from using the term “Chinese virus,” and it also hasn’t stopped the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro from backing Trump’s use of the term.
Shapiro wrote an op-ed for an Illinois newspaper blaming China for the explosion of the virus and defending the name “Chinese virus,” since the cases originated in China. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette republished Shapiro’s editorial on Saturday morning.
Shapiro’s argument is overtly racist, and it ignores WHO guidelines. While Shapiro has the freedom to express his opinion as he wishes, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette should not be giving Shapiro, or his racism, a platform.
WHO officials deliberately named the coronavirus generically in order to avoid stigmatizing a country or particular group.
“Viruses know no borders and they don’t care about your ethnicity, the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank,” Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said. “So it’s really important we be careful in the language we use lest it lead to the profiling of individuals associated with the virus.”
Calling the coronavirus the Chinese virus doesn’t target just China, but an entire ethnicity of people, which is bigoted and hateful. Hate crimes against Asian Americans in the United States are increasing exponentially, and while there’s no way to know for sure if Trump’s rhetoric has been catalyzing this, it certainly isn’t helping.
The virus has a name. It doesn’t need a new one. Any discourse around whether it’s acceptable or not to call it the Chinese virus is irrelevant and stoked with xenophobia. Trump defended his use of the nickname, saying it wasn’t racist. But Trump doesn’t get to decide what is racist and what isn’t.
Constitutionally, Shapiro has the right to defend Trump’s use of the term. But newspapers don’t have the obligation to give him a platform. The Post-Gazette should not have picked up his op-ed, especially when WHO warned people to avoid bigoted language. The United States is responsible for the severity of the outbreak, too. This isn’t the time to start pointing fingers.
“This is a time for solidarity, this is a time for facts, this is a time to move forward together, to fight this virus together. There is no blame in this,” Ryan said. “All we need now is to identify the things we need to do to move forward quickly, with speed and to avoid any indication of ethnic or other associations with this virus.”
We hope that in the future, especially in a time such as this, the Post-Gazette can exemplify solidarity too.