Talk show host Bill Maher recently defended calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” Maher’s argument was unoriginal: “When they named Lyme disease after a town in Connecticut, the locals didn’t get all ticked off?” Chinese is an ethnicity. Imagine if we referred to Lyme Disease as the “white disease,” given that Connecticut is majority white today and likely was in the 1970s.
“We can’t stop telling the truth because racists get the wrong idea,” Maher added. The FBI estimates that hate crimes against Asian-Americans will rise because “a portion of the U.S. public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations,” according to a report obtained by ABC News. Over the past several weeks, an Asian-American woman was spat on in the streets of San Fransico. And an Asian-American man and his 10-year-old son were harassed, followed, and then assaulted in New York. Both assailants reportedly yelled an expletive about China before each incident. Then there was Texas. An Asian-American toddler and a 6-year-old were stabbed in a store because their attacker erroneously believed they were infecting people.
The wrong ideas can be as dangerous as any virus. COVID-19 already has a common name. Giving it another name is unnecessary, especially if it could mislead people. I recognize the beast that turns fear into hostility and hostility into violence. The only thing that changes are the victims’ faces. Now they are Asian-American. I would argue that what we need right now is accurate, timely information. What we need are the right ideas.