Is Calling the Coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” Racist?


Jabin Botsford—The Washington Post/Getty Images

President Trump’ speech has ‘Corona Virus’ crossed out and replaced by ‘Chinese Virus’ as he speaks at the White House on March 19, 2020

Emilyanne Richart, Reporter

President Trump has unapologetically called Covid-19, otherwise known as the Corona Virus, the “Chinese Virus” in press meetings, conferences, and on his twitter account. Many were outraged by the name, claiming that it is racist and Anti-Chinese, while others shrugged it off, saying that it’s not  the least bit insensitive, but simply stating where it’s from.

Yet it’s not that simple, with Trump coining the phrase because he “didn’t appreciate the fact that China was saying that our military gave it to them,” and by “saying that our military gave it to them creates a stigma”, as he claimed on March 17th at a White House briefing. Yet by calling the Corona Virus the “Chinese virus”, Trump has worsened an already existing stigma against Asian Americans.

At another White House briefing, later the same day, Trump continued to defend his terminology, saying, “It’s not racist at all,” and that he calls it the ‘Chinese Virus” because it “…comes from China.” But by calling it the Chinese Virus, Trump is referring to the ethnicity, not the geographical place, China.  In continuing this line of discourse, Trump is ignoring the World Health Organization, who in 2015 asked experts, officials, and journalists to avoid names that include geographical locations. In 2015, the World Health Organization issued new guidelines for naming diseases “to minimize unnecessary negative impact of disease names” and “avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”

“The use of this term is not only corrosive vis-à-vis a global audience, including here at home, it is also fueling a narrative in China about a broader American hatred and fear of not just the Chinese Communist Party but of China and Chinese people in general,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Calling the virus the Chinese virus promotes racism in America, where “reports of anti-Asian violence are on the rise along with white nationalist rhetoric about the coronavirus on social media and far-right websites, according to Eric Ward, director of the Western States Center, a group based in Portland, Oregon, that works to strengthen inclusion.

“We have an irresponsible president who continues to refer to COVID-19 as a Chinese virus. That is intentional,” Ward said. “And at a time of great panic and fear, that will only lead to physical violence.” This rhetoric could worsen hate crimes against Chinese people and already has here in America. According to the intelligence report that was compiled by the FBI, hate crimes against Asian Americans “will likely surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities.” This assessment is “based on the assumption that a portion of the US public will associate COVID-19 with Chine and Asian American populations.” This is due to already existing sectors in the public’s racism against Asian Americans as well as the rhetoric our society continues to use to describe an already named virus by nicknaming it the “Chinese virus”. Although putting the blame on China wasn’t the intention of President Trump, or so he claims, it has done more harm than good, especially for Asian Americans who are left to deal with blatant racism and harassment fueled by such rhetoric. According to ABC, “this rhetoric, critics say, has fueled ill will and has led some people to act out against Asian Americans.”

The hateful practice of calling the Corona Virus the “Chinese Virus” and similar racist mannerisms have affected a variety of ethnicities who fall under the category of Asian American, according to the Stop-AAIP-Hate website, a project of the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action that was launched on March 19 to track anti-Asian harassment.

Reports of hate crimes averaging approximately 100 per day according to Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). And in an interview with the New Yorker and Mike Ainsworth, the director of London services at Stop Hate U.K., an anti-hate group, Ainsworth said that his organization had seen a spike in hate crimes and incidents reported by Asian communities and individuals in the U.K. Specific incidents of blatant racism against Asian Americans are plentiful and victims range from ethnicities, ages, genders, etc. and can be incredibly dehumanizing and harmful. These incidents include an Asian man in a Brooklyn subway car who was yelled at and sprayed with Febreze air freshener, an Asian American family of three were attacked by a man with a knife, and a 16-year-old Asian American was hospitalized after school bullies accused him of carrying the virus. Such hate crimes “are very, very alarming and are not helped by President Trump who calls this the ‘Chinese virus’, ” Representative Judy Chu said.

Racism against Asian Americans has been prevalent in our society due to the outbreak of the Corona Virus, which is proven by the Stop-AAPI-Hate website, where their project has received “more than 1,000 reports from people in 32 states detailing verbal abuse, denial of services, discrimination on the job or physical assaults,” says the LA Times. A report from the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council  states that “Asian Americans of different ethnicities are racially profiled; 61% of the reports are from non-Chinese.” This stresses the need for rephrasing our dialogue to ensure that all Asian Americans are safe in America. There is no reason to continue calling the Corona Virus the “Chinese Virus”, with everyone already aware that the virus originated in China and that the U.S military is not to blame. We are also in a day and age where it is unacceptable by the WHO to use terminology to describe any virus that includes geographical locations or ethnicities due to the racial stigma it can cause.

To continue using this nickname, Trump is ignoring the blatant racism in America and promoting the growing hatred of Asian Americans in our own country over something that wasn’t even their fault. Asian Americans should not have to continuously be penalized by a racial stigma as the president worsens it. As president, Trump should take the issue of harassment and assault of Asian Americans and address it to his demographic and to all of America. He needs to call the virus by its name given to it by health officials, the Corona virus or Covid-19.