Emil Guillermo: Trump knows better; It’s an American virus that’s killing Americans
CBS reporter Weijia Jiang tweeted how a White House staffer joked about the coronavirus in a racist way, calling it the “Kung Flu.”
If comedian Joe Wong said it, maybe it could be funny.
But when a White House aide says it to a working reporter in the midst of a national emergency, it’s just not a joking matter.
And when the president is asked about it at the White House coronavirus briefing, it’s strange when the president sounds like he’s goading the reporter to repeat the slur so he could say it himself.
“Say it again,” Trump told the reporter Yamiche Alcindor of the PBS News Hour. She did so hesitatingly, and Trump repeated it, “Kung Flu.”
No one laughed. Alcindor followed up. “And do you think that’s wrong and do you think using the term ‘Chinese virus’ puts Asian Americans at risk?” Alcindor said, pointing out how innocent Asian Americans have been targeted by strangers as being to blame for the disruption in all our lives.
“No, not at all,” said Trump. “I think they probably would agree with it 100 percent.”
I don’t think a single Asian American, not even Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell’s wife, would agree with him.
But Trump insisted with a double negative.
“It comes from China,” said Trump. “There’s nothing not to agree with.”
Trump trailed off and dismissed the end of the question, failing to reassure Asian Americans that the president has our back.
Clearly, he doesn’t.
It was the second time at the press conference Trump took a swing at the question.
A mulligan. He whiffed again.
Earlier, ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked: “Why do you keep calling this the ‘Chinese Virus’? There are reports of dozens of incidents of bias against Chinese Americans in this country. Your own aide, Secretary Alex Azar, says he does not use this term. He says ethnicity does not cause the virus. Why do you keep using this? A lot of people say its racist.”
It was all teed up for Trump.
“It’s not racist at all. It comes from China,” said Trump, pronouncing the “Chi” syllable in an almost ugly racist way as he were a white actor playing Charlie Chan. “It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate.”
Vega continued to press her question, but Trump talked over her.
“I have a great. . .I have great love for all of the people from our country. But as you know, China tried to say at one point, maybe they stopped now, that [the virus] was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen. It’s not going to happen not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.”
It was as if calling it “Chinese Virus” was a test of Trump’s manhood, as if Asian Americans need to be caught up in his masculinity battle with China’s Xi Jinping.
Since the global crisis began in January, Trump has been more concerned with pointing fingers at China instead of preparing for the way epidemics spread and become pandemics.
On Wednesday, Trump appeared to be more tuned into the seriousness of what an unprepared America was about to face in this crisis. Maybe someone made him watch “Contagion”?
Everything seemed to be going in the right direction, except for this name-calling thing.
While the virus is suspected of originating in Wuhan, China’s live animal markets, it’s called COVID-19 precisely to avoid all the ugly xenophobic name-calling.
The fact is the virus has spread, and the virus America is fighting is the virus Americans have. It is not a Chinese virus that is afflicting 9,345 Americans with 140 deaths.
That’s the number now, as I write.
By the time you read this, that number will have grown exponentially. And it’s only the beginning.
And that’s why this is no small thing. What the leader of the free world calls this virus matters. Especially if it means many of us may be attacked by an anxiety-ridden American who in this national emergency has just lost his job, his loved ones, or his mind.
If you are Asian American, you’ve grown up with this all your life. Not just the Chinese, but the Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indians, and Pakistanis.
There’s a xenophobic name for every one of us.
There’s even a favorite one Americans used during the forgotten Philippine-U.S. war, the adjunct to the Spanish American War, when Filipinos were the original “gooks.”
It’s an historical “one-slur-fits-all” word.
That’s our past.
In this national COVID-19 emergency, it shouldn’t be our present.
If Trump claims to love all us Americans, it’s time to show it.
After all, on our soil, it’s an American virus afflicting Americans that’s impacting all of us.
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.