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Memo To Marco Rubio: We Can Help People AND Not Be Racists

One of the more disappointing things to come about from the coronavirus crisis — aside from the fact that people are contracting the disease itself, with some dying from it — is the fact that some, including top leaders in Washington, are insisting on acting racist during the entire ordeal.

Both images via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (Trump, Rubio)

President Donald Trump has frequently invoked the phrase “Chinese virus” to describe the current pandemic. The phrase is racist, plain and simple.

It’s not clear why he chooses to do so — his explanation doesn’t say a lot (“It comes from China, that’s why”) — but I have a hunch it has something to do with his desire to lay blame on a country half the world away, to minimize blame directed to himself for his lackluster and inefficient response to the spread of COVID-19 in America.

Other political leaders, Asian Americans across the country, and the CDC itself have said that it’s inappropriate to call coronavirus by the pejorative name that Trump aims to make happen. But Trump does have his defenders, including those who try to dismiss complaints as distracting from the real mission at hand: trying to defeat this thing.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted out a response to the people who are aghast that their president uses racist language. His posting takes those individuals to task, finger-waving at them for daring to insist Trump not be racist during a time of national crisis.

“Virtually every American was either laid off or has family members & friends who have. I know AN ENTIRE IMMEDIATE FAMILY (husband, wife, two adult children & their 2 spouses) all laid off in last 72 hours,” Rubio wrote. “But some people want to argue over what name we should use for the virus”

Rubio’s words here make it seem as though pointing out racist behavior is wasted breath at a time when we need all hands on deck. The Florida senator doesn’t necessarily condone Trump’s words, but he explains we don’t have time at the moment to worry about them.

Here’s the thing, though: we can, and should, be helping people. But we can choose to do it in a mean, ugly way — or a decent, kind, and respectable way.

It’s not as if we have two choices here: refusing to accept racism as acceptable and providing aid to Americans that need it are not two mutually exclusive concepts.

It’s especially not wrong to try to deter racism at this time because the bigotry that’s being peddled is ACTUALLY CAUSING HARM to others, resulting in harassment, both proprietorial and personal, to Asian Americans.

But Rubio acts as if it’s no big deal, as if the racism this president is promoting has no consequences.

We have an alternative to Rubio’s thinking. We can help people, while also pushing the noble ideal that doing so doesn’t mean we have to tolerate hate and the violence that comes along with it.



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