House minority leader is latest Republican to use racist term for coronavirus

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Kevin McCarthy called the novel coronavirus the 'Chinese coronavirus' — a racist name public health advisers have warned against using.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy used a racist term for the coronavirus fueling the growing COVID-19 outbreak this week, further stoking the racism and xenophobia that is harming Asians and Asian Americans in communities across the United States.

"Everything you need to know about the Chinese coronavirus can be found on one, regularly-updated website: http://coronavirus.gov," McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted Monday night.

McCarthy's comment follows that of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in an appearance last week on Fox News used the term "Wuhan virus" when discussing the administration's efforts to stop an outbreak — defying the World Health Organization's guidance. Wuhan is the name of the city in China where the first cases of the virus were reported.

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But McCarthy took it a step further by calling it the "Chinese coronavirus."

Global health experts have warned against the "unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people" of naming a virus after a geographic location, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cautioned people not to stigmatize those of Asian descent. 

"This is reckless," Rep. Judy Chu, the first Chinese-American elected to Congress, said in response to McCarthy's tweet. "Why do you insist on disagreeing with HHS and CDC - both of which have said to not do this. 'Stigma is the enemy of public health' – CDC. Your words do not help us understand this threat, they only serve to spread xenophobia and make all of us less safe."

Even more, the website McCarthy linked to in his tweet warns against stigmatizing people of Asian descent as the coronavirus, which can lead to COVID-19 disease, spreads.

"Fear and anxiety can lead to social stigma, for example, towards Chinese or other Asian Americans or people who were in quarantine," the CDC said on the website McCarthy linked to.

"Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem," the CDC continued, adding that, "People can fight stigma and help, not hurt, others by providing social support.

Yet McCarthy ignored those warnings to use the racist "Chinese coronavirus" name, which has led to criticism from experts as well as Chinese-American leaders, who point to people of Asian descent who have already faced racist attacks and even violent assaults.

"Kevin McCarthy calling corona virus Chinese is a racist ploy to make a public health issue something that can be blamed on 'others,'" Shanlon Wu, a legal analyst at CNN, tweeted. "[Asian and Pacific Islander] kids in schools already being taunted about having the virus - this kind of 'leadership' by Republicans is a real danger to all of us."

McCarthy's name for the virus is identical to language used by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has come under fire in the past for pushing racism and xenophobia on his show.

A Trump-aligned group America First Policies used a blog post about the new coronavirus to smear Chinese people as "disease carriers" and used racist tropes about Chinese food.

"It's not surprising to see a Trump-inspired organization parroting his racist and xenophobic rhetoric, but that does not make it any less dangerous," Chu said. "Creating and exploiting fear of minorities is part of the Trump playbook."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.