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By Itself, Referring to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese Virus’ isn’t Racist

It is clear that Robert Aaron Long’s attack on March 16th was a racial hate crime. Regardless of what he has said about his sex addiction, his decision to target Asian-American-owned businesses and kill mostly Asian Americans should be the most important thing to consider. As Trevor Noah said on his show, Long’s “murders speak louder than [his] words.”

Many have correctly claimed that Long’s armed assault is part of a much larger, growing, and insidious trend of hate crimes and hateful rhetoric against Asian Americans and the use of certain labels and terms has exacerbated the problem. This is very true, but that does not necessarily make some of these terms wrong in and of themselves. Specifically, despite its frequent use by bigots, I do not believe that the term “Chinese virus” is inherently racist. Instead, it should be used to hold the Chinese government accountable for its significant involvement in the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

As Bill Maher pointed out in a segment, scientists have been naming viruses after countries and regions of origin for years. If MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and the Spanish Flu are not considered racist, why should the “Chinese virus” be? Discriminatory individuals are always going to look for ways to marginalize their victims. We should not censor ourselves solely because of how they have chosen to use certain words.

While I do not believe that China deliberately released or engineered COVID-19, it made serious mistakes with its extremely poor response to the early stages of this 12+ month pandemic that has killed over 2.5 million people globally. The Biden administration recently confirmed much of a fact sheet regarding China’s involvement in the pandemic released in the final days of the Trump administration. Its assertions are deeply unsettling. Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) reported being sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 as early as autumn 2019, which directly discredits earlier Chinese statements that there was “zero infection” among WIV researchers examining SARS viruses.

In 2019, Wuhan came to prominence as the first epicenter of the pandemic, with the infamous Huanan seafood market that may have started the contagion. Additionally, the CCP “has prevented independent journalists, investigators, and global health authorities from interviewing researchers at the WIV, including those who were ill in the fall of 2019.” Furthermore, it is well-known that one of the first medical professionals to sound the alarm on the novel coronavirus, Dr. Li Wenliang, was persecuted by CCP officials who accused him of spreading false rumors and even made Dr. Li write a statement condemning himself before he died of the virus. If the Chinese government really isn’t responsible for this pandemic in any way, what did it try so hard to conceal the facts?

A 2021 academic paper from the University of Hamburg did come to the conclusion that there were “numerous direct indications” that COVID-19 originated in the labs of WIV after a “young researcher” there was the first person to be infected after WIV studied the virus in bats. Even though such assertions have been challenged, the idea that COVID-19 originated within China under the eyes of the CCP is becoming increasingly unshakeable. World Health Organization investigators allege that “wildlife farms in Southern China,” some part of government-funded programs, are the “most likely source” of COVID-19. While the WHO does also acknowledge that China shut these farms down (over concerns of disease transmission from bats) by February 2020, this was obviously too little, too late.

Above all, I want my words here to be out of concern and compassion: I condemn every act of racial violence against Asians worldwide. But this virus needs to be associated with China (not people of Asian heritage) in every way possible. Calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” should not be unreasonable as very reliable sources clearly suggest that the virus came from China. If we forget or downplay this, China’s authoritarian leadership increases its chances of avoiding accountability for its severe errors.