Skip to main content

How coronavirus is fuelling American hate

If love is the parallel sickness to cholera in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's famed novel, then racist white American hate is the sickness paralleling Covid-19
US President Donald Trump (Reuters)

Hate is as American as apple pie. Racist white Americans, both liberal and conservative, love to hate white and non-white Americans - and they love to hate non-Americans, white or otherwise. 

They hated Native Americans when they conquered and killed them and stole their lands (an ongoing process, even in the time of corona). They hated African Americans when they enslaved them and after they set them free, as they still do in the age of the New Jim Crow

They hate non-white immigrants, and made sure former President Barack Obama rounded up three million “illegals” among them, before President Donald Trump continued the racist campaign. But they also hated white German-Americans during World War I, and hated them again alongside Japanese-Americans during World War II, putting more than 130.000 of them in concentration camps. 

Victims of US imperialism

Since then, racist white American hatred has manifested against all victims of US imperialism, from the Indochinese, to the Latin Americans, to the Arabs and then the Muslims, and to rivals of US power, mainly the Russians and later the Chinese. 

But it would be unfair to just speak of racist white American hatred. Racist Brits, Australians and white Europeans, more generally, also love to hate, and often echo US white racism and outdo it by leaps and bounds. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, China, anti-Chinese racist tweets reportedly increased by a factor of 900 percent. 

US imperial policy has found another opportunity in the coronavirus pandemic to express its aggressive hate and destroy its enemies in Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Nicaragua

In light of Trump’s racist campaign against the Covid-19 virus, the FBI warned of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans: “Three Asian American family members, including a two-year-old and six-year-old, were stabbed … The suspect indicated that he stabbed the family because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.” 

The hatred is such that even Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, deflected it from Asian-Americans onto China: “Maybe it is China’s fault or the [Chinese] government’s fault …There will be a time and place for that conversation. But right now we’re in the thick of this and we have to be mindful of the language we’re using.” 

Aside from “Chinese virus”, other names by which coronavirus is known inside the corridors of the White House include “kung flu”. Some American politicians and racist commentators have placed the blame on Chinese dietary habits as the source of the virus. 

This type of racism does not account for how white Western dietary habits, strange as they are to non-Westerners, “contribute to the spread of everything from mad cow disease, in England, to E. coli” in the US. African American journalist Elie Mystal wondered if these racist white Americans, including bigoted Texas Senator John Cornyn, who put the blame for the virus on the Chinese diet, would object if E coli were referred to as “American Pooping Cowboy Plague”.

Spewing liberal hate

But if liberal US Democrats and some in the liberal US media criticise Trump’s anti-Chinese racism, they rush in turn to spew more liberal hate towards China (and Cuba, Russia, Iran and Venezuela) with the same old juvenile jealousy characteristic of overall US political and intellectual culture during the heyday of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. 

While much of the world is heaping accolades on China’s success in containing the virus and its magnanimity in helping other countries suffering from the pandemic (compared to the very stingy Germany and France, let alone the US and the European Union), the interminably jealous liberal US media features articles about the evils of Chinese motives, if not China’s alleged untrustworthiness in having successfully combatted the deadly virus. 

Beds are lined up at an emergency field hospital in New York on 30 March (AFP)
Beds are lined up at an emergency field hospital in New York on 30 March (AFP)

Meanwhile, envious of the far superior Cuban health system, the US State Department is busy maligning Cuban doctors who have been dispatched around the world to help afflicted countries, such as Italy, to manage their outbreaks. 

Russia also continues to be the recipient of vile propaganda, revived with much venom in the US liberal media, which continues to wail uncontrollably over the defeat of its preferred incompetent, neoliberal and hateful candidate, Hillary Clinton, in the last US presidential election (Clinton’s hatred manifested famously in her reference to poor whites who supported Trump as “deplorables”). 

As for Trump, finding none among his liberal detractors willing to praise him, he has no choice but to heap praise on himself and his performance during the pandemic. 

Sham countries

Trump is in keeping with white American cultural tradition, which, as Alexis de Tocqueville had identified in the 19th century, was such that “Americans in their intercourse with strangers appear impatient of the smallest censure, and insatiable of praise… They unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they fall to praising themselves… Their vanity is not only greedy, but restless and jealous.”

The pandemic has exposed the US and its neoliberal allies in the European Union as sham countries - not only unable to save their own populations from the pandemic, but also actively contributing to deaths and suffering due to their neoliberal economies and liberal intellectuals’ decades-long defence of neoliberal presidents and their policies, which have destroyed the US welfare state and its health sector. 

Coronavirus pandemic could reshape the global order
Read More »

Here I am not speaking of supporters of Reagan, the Bushes, and Trump, but rather of the liberal apologists for the neoliberal policies of the male and female Clintons and Barack Obama, who is still hoping to inflict his wife, Michelle, on the American people as a future president, Michelle’s persistent and unconvincing denials notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, US imperial policy has found another opportunity in the coronavirus pandemic to express its aggressive hate and intensify efforts to destroy its enemies in Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Nicaragua - all with the help of liberal media outlets, which otherwise have been at the forefront of anti-Trump, Clintonite propaganda since the 2016 election. 

The media is full of schadenfreude against Iran, claiming that an incompetent Iranian government is responsible for the outbreak, instead of blaming the ongoing and increasing US sanctions that are preventing the country from buying medical supplies. 

Indeed, an article in the liberal Foreign Policy magazine, seeking to kill two birds with one stone, revelled in also blaming the Chinese for the outbreak in Iran: “The most damning indictment of Iran’s crisis response came on Feb. 24, when Mohammad Hossein Bahreini, the president of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, in an interview with the state-run Iranian Students’ News Agency, admonished that the ‘presence of 700 Chinese clerical students in the Qom Seminary prepared the ground for dissemination’ of the coronavirus all over Iran.” 

Before and after the pandemic

As for Venezuela, amid the pandemic, the US, in its white colonial cowboy tradition, issued an indictment against elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his aides on trumped-up charges of narcoterrorism, offering a bounty for their capture. The mostly white and Democratic Party-controlled Congress has in turn taken time away from the pandemic to pass a bill, without one opposing vote, seeking to topple the democratically elected government of Nicaragua

For its part, Israel’s hatred of the Israeli-conquered and colonised Palestinians is translating into the pandemic threatening the collaborator Palestinian Authority-run areas of the West Bank and Israeli-besieged Gaza, where Covid-19 could overrun the densely populated, open-air prison - let alone Israel’s actual prisons, housing 5,000 Palestinians, among whom the infection could be spreading. In the time of corona, Israel’s murder of Palestinians and theft of their lands are proceeding apace.

The pandemic is nothing except yet another occasion for imperial violence and hate to proceed unhindered

If love is the parallel sickness to cholera in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famed novel, then racist white American hate - or at least Trump’s, some have suggested - is the sickness paralleling corona.

What is missed in this analogy, however, is the fact that white American racist hatred and imperial aggression (let alone European racism and Israeli colonial and racist hatred of Palestinians) preceded and will surely succeed the pandemic, as much as they continue in their ferocity during its spread. 

Indeed, hate in the time of corona is the same as in other times. The pandemic is nothing except yet another occasion for imperial violence and hate to proceed unhindered. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Joseph Massad
Joseph Massad is Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of many books and academic and journalistic articles. His books include Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan, Desiring Arabs, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism. His books and articles have been translated to a dozen languages.