Everything but the N-word

While speaking at a youth rally in Phoenix, Trump called the coronavirus “kung flu.”


Imagine this scenario: a new strain of virus has arrived on these American shores from Africa. After initially downplaying its severity, the President of the United States falsely claims that it is under control. But in a month or two, it is apparent the virus is spreading unabated and putting our country in a state of extreme emergency. Meanwhile, the president refuses to use his power to unite us in defeating this “invisible enemy,” choosing instead to look angrily across the ocean and shake his fist.

He lashes out at the African continent and calls this virus the “savage sickness.” At a campaign rally he holds, he might refer to it as the “jungle malady.” He may even feel so comfortable surrounded by his supporters at such a gathering that he’ll opt for an extreme racial epithet and call it the “N—– flu.”

Now in this scenario, would any man, woman, or child in this country stand for such bigoted language from ANY fellow citizen, let alone the President of the United States?

Yet during his recent (and very real) rally in Tulsa, Okla., President Trump referred to COVID-19 — which originated in China — as the “kung flu.” Is this reprehensible term somehow milder or less offensive, particularly to Asian Americans? Is it in any way comical and worthy of a snicker rather than a grimace?

The answer, of course, is no. So let’s label it precisely what it is: vile racism stripped down to a pithy two-word term coming straight from the mouth of a man who holds the highest office in the land.

In the past, he has called it the “Chinese virus” not so much to point out the origin but to point the finger of blame. Granted, China has a lot to answer for in the way it handled the virus initially, but the country publicly shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19 with the World Health Organization at the very beginning of this year.

This means Trump’s administration had more than fair warning, and still brazenly dismissed the possibility of a bonafide catastrophe. Flash forward several months and an unfathomable amount of dead Americans later, and our Commander-in-Chief still wants us to believe China has simply dealt us a bad hand.

And while the destructive pandemic continues to claim souls in our country to this day — with rising cases in over half the states — he instructs us to aim all our anger and bitterness toward a land across the Pacific.

His choice of language certainly backs this up. What’s even more disturbing is that moths ago, when a reporter informed one of the president’s own advisers that someone in the administration called this coronavirus the “kung flu,” she immediately denounced it as being highly offensive. And a few days after the Tulsa rally, Trump’s own press secretary was asked by reporters repeatedly if the president regretted using the term.

Having the impossible job of defending Trump’s racist remark, she zigged and zagged, steadfastly insisting that the president has no regrets in pointing out that China is to blame for all this. She never directly answered the question— a skill at which members of White House press team have become adept.

Yet rather than retrace his steps and admit that he was wrong to use such racist rhetoric, Trump decided instead to trot it out again while addressing college students in an Arizona church later that same week. The young people in attendance not only audibly clamored to hear him say it but cheered wildly when he did, like fans going wild when a rock star rips into one of his best-known hits.

Right or wrong, too many people follow the president’s lead simply because he is our leader. Sadly, this can result in fanning the flames of divisive bigotry. Taking their cue from the president’s remarks, some people have spewed words of hate and “go-back-where-you-came-from” sentiments at Asian Americans they may happen to pass on the street. Even more appalling, doctors of Asian descent have reported that while at the hospital bedsides of COVID-19 victims, they’ve been verbally abused and even spit upon by these very patients they’re attempting to help.

Throw into the disconcerting mix that a disproportionate number of black, brown, and Native American lives have been lost to this pandemic, and it is all the more imperative not to use incendiary racist verbiage of any kind. But true to his character, Trump thinks it is more beneficial to divide us rather than unite us. Collateral and racist damage is inconsequential to him; he believes so long as he plays to his base and pulls enough votes from his adulators.

All this is par for the unsettling course as Trump makes his thinly disguised xenophobia public on a semi-regular basis. Remember, this is the same leader who tried to keep out refugees with an executive order known as the “Muslim ban.” The same leader has labored for years to put up a wall on the Mexican border. The same leader who suggested that four congresswomen of color go back to their broken countries, even though all are American citizens.

The same leader who puffs up his chest with pride when speaking of the China travel “ban” he enacted, ostensibly to stem the tide of the virus. But directly after that toothless action — 40,000 Americans and authorized travelers still entered our country directly from China — he did almost nothing to prepare us or even properly alert us as to how to handle the pandemic. It is not a stretch then to deduce that his real agenda was simply keeping foreign people out of the country, under any guise.

So is casting a suspicious eye on all foreigners, dreamers, and people of color a quality we should all emulate if we follow our president’s lead? Should we then embrace his language as well as his mindset? Is it really all right to disparage a group of people and subject them to taunts and harm by recklessly tossing around a phrase like “kung flu?”

Imagine if Trump actually were to ever say such a thing as the “N—– flu” or even dropped the “n-word” in any capacity, at any time or any place. Forget about handing him a cardboard box to pack his belongings in; we couldn’t hustle him out of the Oval Office fast enough if he ever expressed such a gross, detestable utterance.

So why is anyone willing to accept everything short of that?


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