Variants and variations

Since the onset of the current pandemic about a year ago, I have referred to the disease causing the havoc as the “Wuhan coronavirus.” Doing so has two virtues. It identifies the culprit as a virus and it states where the virus originates. “COVID” does neither.

At first, the mainstream media seemed to be okay with “Wuhan coronavirus.” But then came the “memo.” To say “Wuhan” or “China” in connection with the virus was racist and xenophobic. Hence, the shift to COVID-19 and, soon thereafter, to COVID.

But now, as the virus mutates, the media has no qualms about saying “British variant” and, more recently, “South African variant.” Why not instead just say “variant 1” and “variant 2”?

Ari Fleischer calls out the Washington Post on this:

Wait a minute…After months of being told it was racist to refer to COVID as a ‘Chinese virus’ the WP refers to its new strains as ‘British and South African variants.’ So you can use the name of the nation where it comes from, so long as that nation is not China. Got it.

The Post’s line has been that calling this virus the “China virus” represents a “dangerous attitude.” The paper quoted an alleged expert — a lecturer in Asian American and Asian diaspora studies — who called it “racist” to say “China virus.”

But it is no more racist to say “China virus” than it is to say “British variant.” In both cases, the idea is to identify the origin of the virus, not to disparage a racial group.

One could argue that there is this difference — saying “China virus” might lead to violence against Chinese Americans. However, I doubt that any evidence supports a claim of linguistically induced violence. If the mainstream media is solicitous of Chinese Americans, it should come down against the discrimination inflicted on them by colleges and universities in admissions. The evidence of that discrimination is overwhelming.

My view is that the media probably backed away from “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” to cover for China, not to protect Chinese Americans from violence. The Red Chinese government objected to the words “China virus” and the American media kowtowed.

In addition, I believe the media was influenced by the fact that Donald Trump liked to say “China virus.” The media, following Joe Biden’s lead, wanted to portray Trump’s attitude towards the virus as “xenophobic.” Hence, its outcry against words associating the virus with its country (or region) of origin.

No such imperatives apply when it comes to labeling variants of the virus that come from other parts of the world. Thus, the media is fine with the kind of language that has always been used to describe diseases that originate outside the U.S., except during the Trump presidency when it came to China.