When Donald Trump calls COVID-19 a “Chinese virus” it’s a conscious diversion. Viruses cannot have an ethnicity or race; they are RNA encased in a protein shell. COVID-19 is unable to know or care about who you are, and because we live in an unequal society, people of color and the undocumented will be disproportionately impacted by this crisis. If we are going to prevail, we have to oppose the racism on both ends of this equation.
When the city delayed the closing of CPS schools while suburban and private schools shut down, Chicago has the largest death gappeople were endangered. Did they think that our students are of a hardier variety? Chicago has the largest death gap among the 500 biggest U.S. cities, according to analysis of data by the City Health Dashboard. The average life expectancy of a resident of Englewood, a neighborhood that is predominantly poor and almost all African-American, is 60. Eight miles north in Streeterville, a rich and white area, life expectancy is 90. This is in one of the largest cities in the richest society in the history of humanity.
Deaths related to coronavirus will widen this gap, as poor people and people of color are already at greater risk for worse outcomes due to having more medical issues. Skin tone has nothing to do with the prevalence of asthma, high blood pressure, or diabetes – racial inequality is the only reasonable explanation as to why these conditions exist in significantly higher numbers amongst African-Amercians.
Since March 18th, reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate has received over 650 reports of discrimination. From refusal of services to physical assault, there has been a sharp uptick in racistthere has been a sharp uptick in racist behavior targeting anyone who appears Asian. behavior targeting anyone who appears Asian. This is directly attributable to Trump’s desire to direct blame away from his administration.
Since mid-January there should have been conversations between international infectious disease healthcare professionals. Experts from China should have been in round the clock communication with their counterparts in this country and others about what they’ve done: what worked, what didn’t, what was worth trying, and what shouldn’t even be attempted. We’ve lost time because many politicians are anti-Chinese racists, focused on their careers, their donors, or their stocks, or are just plain incompetent—but not smart enough to know what they aren’t experts of.
Racism and xenophobia have a long and unfortunate history not just in politics, but in our unions. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which specifically banned any Chinese person from immigrating to the United States, was actively supported by the American Federation of Labor as well as the Knights of Labor. It wasn’t until 1965 that this law was functionally repealed—over 80 years later. The backdrop of the 1882 Act was economic decline, where Chinese workers became a scapegoat for politicians and labor leaders to explain falling wages.
As unionists, we should follow the lead of the Industrial Workers of the World, whose position was “so long will the master class bring these people in to compete with us as sellers of labor power… We must educate and organize on class lines; we must do away with race prejudice and imaginary boundary lines; we must recognize that all workers belong to the international nation of wealth producers.”