Guest Commentary: Letter Referencing ‘China Virus’ Disturbing and Alarming

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Steven Senne / AP

By Anoosh Jorjorian

Davis’s mayor, Gloria Partida, founded the Davis Phoenix Coalition after a hate crime against her son. In a homophobic attack he was beaten so severely that he landed in the hospital, and his family worried that he would die. She established the Davis Phoenix Coalition to eliminate intolerance, end hate-motivated violence, provide safe spaces for marginalized communities, and cultivate a culture that embraces diversity and promotes inclusivity in Davis and the wider world.

When the Davis Enterprise published a letter to the editor recently that referred to the COVID-19 virus as “the China virus,” we in DPC were disturbed and alarmed. While “China virus” is not specifically considered a slur, evidence is mounting that it is meant as an anti-Asian invective and results in violence against Asian Americans. A September study coordinated by three universities found an increase in anti-Asian discrimination at the same time that President Trump and other Republican politicians pushed the terms “China virus” and “Wuhan coronavirus” in the media.

Indeed, the study reports that anti-Asian attitudes and crimes had declined steadily from 2007 until March 2020, when anti-Asian rhetoric began. Beyond this documented evidence, we also know Asian Americans in our own community who have recounted hostile experiences locally, where the instigators made it clear that they were acting in response to rhetoric that blamed all Asians for COVID-19.

We were glad to see Caleb Hampton, an Enterprise reporter, write a thoughtful, forceful commentary in dissent against the publication of the offensive letter. We wholeheartedly agree with Hampton’s statement and thank him for standing up against prejudice in the pages of our local newspaper. Free speech ends at incitement, and, unfortunately, we have proof that the language used in the letter to the editor is, in fact, inciting.

To newspaper editors, the line between free speech and hate speech is often an abstraction, and editors are inclined to err on the side of free speech. Sadly, to many people who are marginalized—including Black, Indigenous, People of Color, people in the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and people with disabilities—the consequences of some “free speech” are not abstract, but real, physical, and painful. If you have never experienced being physically close to a person shouting hate-filled racial slurs at you, you may not realize how profoundly it affects people emotionally and physically.

While we believe our local newspaper should defend free speech, we also believe the leadership has a responsibility to protect Davisites’ safety. In the past the Enterprise has, at the least, added footnotes to highlight the fine line between free speech and responsible journalism. In light of this incident, we encourage The Davis Enterprise to reexamine their policies regarding letters to the editor. Under the current policy, “China virus” is not considered a racial slur, and yet people are clearly using it as one. We ask only that the Enterprise take a realistic approach to what is and isn’t a slur. Everyone can still exercise free speech without resorting to terms of hate.

Anoosh Jorjorian is writing on behalf of The Board of The Davis Phoenix Coalition


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18 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Letter Referencing ‘China Virus’ Disturbing and Alarming”

  1. Chris Griffith

    The chinese are the source of the coronavirus, and vomited a torrent of lies akin to an exploding septic tank and who how many deaths in the world and YOU are senative to the term China virus?

    1. Matt Williams

      The chinese are the source of the coronavirus, and vomited a torrent of lies akin to an exploding septic tank and who how many deaths in the world and YOU are senative to the term China virus?

      Chinese human beings are not the source of the coronavirus.  SARS-CoV-2 came from an animal, although exactly which animal species is as yet unclear.

      Further, the expression “Chinese Virus” is a meme not a geographic designation.  “Operation Warp Stumble” is also a meme, as is “Trump Virus.”

      “357 thousand and counting” can also be considered to be a meme, but it is also a statistic … and a tragedy.

       

    2. Alan Miller

      The chinese are the source of the coronavirus, and vomited a torrent of lies akin to an exploding septic tank

      I understand your point, though it is not remotely delicately worded.  I believe you are speaking of the mainland Chinese government, not Chinese people.  Indeed, Taiwanese people may also be considered Chinese, and their government, which includes a leader (I believe the vice-president) who is an epidemiologist, are the envy of the world in how they have all but *eradicated the virus>

      *7 deaths total in a population of 24 million – no deaths since May; less than a thousand cases total, compare to Yolo County with population 220K (less than 1%) with 8700 cases (10x+) and 125 deaths (nearly 20x). 

      So “chinese” are the source isn’t an accurate way to state you point and rather opens you up to criticism.

      and who how many deaths in the world and YOU are senative to the term China virus?

      I believe what you are saying is that a term isn’t the real problem, what caused the spread is the problem, and you see the strategy/coverup of the mainland government as what lead to the spread – so why are we arguing over a term.  That’s my take on what you are saying.  I’m not arguing how much to *blame mainland China’s government is just trying to clarify your point, and possibly you could confirm if I am interpreting it correctly.

      *that goes from ‘not at all’ to ‘they released it on purpose’ and several shades of grey in between depending on how you think and what you read.

  2. Tia Will

    Chris

    The answer to your question is, yes I am. If there were a purpose for so naming the virus beyond stirring up distraction, hatred, and divisiveness I would feel differently. For example, if it were necessary to distinguish this virus from another and only their sites of origin were known, then country designation would be of value. But that is not the case. So what are the reasons for country designation:

    1. Distraction from the desperate need for an effective national strategy.

    2. Politicization of a naturally occurring disaster.

    3.  Mislabelling a group of people as the enemy instead of rightfully focusing all our efforts against the true enemy, the virus.

    Also of note is the fact that the strategy of a “torrent of lies” was the same adopted not only by Chinese officials but also by Trump and our own GOP leadership with similarly fatal results. There will be plenty of time to parse blame and design more proactive and effective systems after we have dealt with the current catastrophe.

  3. Chris Griffith

    Tia whatever I say don’t take it personally I think you’re a very nice lady and the same applies to the Chinese people and until China changes its name it is still the origin of the virus plain and simple I don’t think a lot of Chinese people get their butt hurt over this term I think they know what’s going on they’re not that stupid. I think the Phoenix coalition is just the arm of the me too movement plain and simple.

     

     

    1. Eric Gelber

      Context, as well as words, matter. Anyone with a basic knowledge of history would be aware of this country’s record of scapegoating and vilifying Asians—the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment being only two obvious and egregious examples.

      It’s one thing to point out that this virus appears to have originated in China but quite another to label it the Chinese virus, with the clear intent on the part of those who do (e.g., the president) to cast aspersions on and blame the Chinese people (not merely a handful of officials) for its early spread. That certainly has been the effect, and it has had repercussions for Asians in the U.S. E.g., https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/25-percent-asian-american-youths-racist-bullying-n1240380

       

    2. Ron Glick

      Chris, The Phoenix Coalition pre-dates the Me Too movement and was founded in the wake of a grave violent attack on the current Mayor’s son.

      Tia is correct about the motives of the outgoing President in branding Covid-19 as “The Chinese Flu.”

      If it was in the context of location of origin only, like the Hong Kong Flu of my youth, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, with violent attacks against Asians on the rise, being more careful about the language we use isn’t a bad idea.

      I get it though, one of the appeals of Trump for many is his constant skewering of those that want to control every behavior including the lexicon of the racially insensitive.

      It seems that Anoosh has some understanding of this phenomenon and makes a limited appeal to less inflammatory rhetoric.

    3. Dave Hart

      Chris, consider historically that the so-called “Spanish Flu” first showed up on a military base at Fort Funston, in Lyon County, Kansas near the home of my grandparents and great grandparents.  It only moved to Europe because soldiers from that base were shipped there.  So why does it get the name “Spanish Flu”?  All the governments engaged in WWI wanted to suppress its existence (sound familiar) and forbid newspaper coverage except for one country not engaged in the war:  Spain.  Spanish newspapers wrote articles about the new flu.  What hasn’t changed is the politicization of nature and spread of disease. Why not just stick with the science and call it Covid-19?  Why is that so hard?  In fact, it uses fewer characters and saves ink.

  4. Tia Will

    Chris

    I although I don’t know you, so I have no idea whether or not I would find you to be a “nice person”, I am going to assume you are writing in good faith. As a who happens to have been influenced by my medical training, I do not favor the naming of anything other than its correct name. Not only because it may be offensive, but also because it can be confusing.

    Let’s take the confusing part first. There were a few times in my career when I actually had to ask a patient to physically point to the part of her anatomy she was referencing when she used a slang expression or “you know, down there” when frankly, I had no idea what she meant. It is not good medical practice to assume when an imprecise term is used.

    Now for the offensive part. I have heard the novel coronavirus referred to as the China virus. I have also heard the novel coronavirus referred to as the Trump virus because of his failure to address it in an effective fashion. I personally do not believe a pandemic should be politicized and do not find that term any more acceptable than I do refer to it as the China virus.

    To avoid both confusion and potential offense, everything should be called by its most precise name.

  5. Ron Glick

    “I’m curious if anyone tell me how many people of Chinese descent are on or supporting this me too movement called Phoenix coalition?”

    The fact that you need to ask this question demonstrates that you have limited understanding of The Phoenix Coalition, its history, its mission and its earned place at the table in this community.

    I too suggest that you tone down your reflexive trolling on this issue.

  6. Chris Griffith

    Interesting responses.In this period of time with people dying everywhere people out of work businesses that can open and then put out an article like this what kind of response would you expect?

    1. David Greenwald

      Sometimes the best response is not to respond. Also, not getting the group’s mission wrong would be kind of helpful, especially when you don’t appear to know anything about them.

    2. Matt Williams

      Chris, I don’t disagree with your response at all … in fact your response can be applied word for word to Trump’s creation of the meme “the China Virus.”

      For the record, my daughter-in-law is 50% Chinese and 50% Thai, and she finds the reference threatening to her daily safety.

    3. Ron Oertel

      Chris:  There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with your comments, here (despite how others are responding).

      I also don’t see it as a “big deal” that you didn’t know what the Phoenix Coalition is.

      No one can speak on behalf of entire groups of people – including one’s own “group”.

  7. Alan Miller

    This is what I wrote in the Enterprise comments section in response to Caleb Hampton’s opinion piece:

    I have no tolerance for anyone who has been hateful towards Asians or anyone else, and if you did that because of the virus, you are not only a racist but a dumb-arse, because Asians were wearing masks in public in great percentages here in Davis long before the rest of us, because they knew the truth about pandemics long before the CDC got its S together and stopped lying to us.

    That doesn’t conflate to using a term of origin for the virus. It’s probably offensive, but let it be offensive. Shows up people for who they are. Free speech is worth taking to the edge, and I’ve never found rat feces in my food at a restaurant.

    Spooks me a bit that a reporter here views their media this way. I’ll be particularly cautious when reading their content.

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