There’s been a popular debate about the morality of using alternative names for COVID-19. Specifically names like “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus,” and sometimes even “Asian virus.” Many people around the world, including the U.S. president, have put noticeable effort into using these terms and not simply the coronavirus or COVID-19. Why they want to use other names really isn’t important — what matters is that they’ve decided they want to and are going to do everything they can to continue.
The problem is that using these terms causes racism.
The opposition to this trend is well-intentioned, but still misses the main issue with renaming the coronavirus in this way. Naming a disease after the place it originated has historically resulted in violence, hatred and xenophobia toward innocent people who are, or who may look like they might be, from the place of origin.
The many people using these terms are confronted by the opposition with claims that it’s racist to use them. The opposition is wrong about this. They’re completely missing the point — because using these terms isn’t racist at all. If the virus is from Wuhan, then there’s nothing racist about calling the disease the “Wuhan virus.” Taking this stance is an automatic loss for the opposition due to a simple misunderstanding. According to Merriam-Webster, Racism can be defined as prejudice or discrimination base on race — simply naming something after the place it originated isn’t racist.
Calling COVID-19 the Wuhan virus isn’t racist, but popularizing the term and spreading its usage will inevitably cause others to commit acts of racism.This is the main issue that both sides fail to understand. Those who use these terms are disaffected, unintelligent people who ignore this point entirely. The opposition similarly doesn’t understand the actual problem in addition to failing to articulate the proper counter argument.
In a recent episode of his show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher made the point that scientists for much of history have named diseases after the places they originated. He brought up examples like Zika, Ebola, Hantavirus, West Nile virus, Guinea worm, rocky mountain spotted fever, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome and Spanish flu, which were all named after corresponding geographical locations of origin.
Maher seemed to be making an intelligent point to many, especially advocates of the Chinese virus term. However, his logic is flawed. His argument rests under the assumption that if something has been done for a long time, it couldn’t possibly be wrong. But just because something wrong has been done for a long time doesn’t make it right.
Maher fails to inform the viewer that in most of the examples he mentioned, the naming of these diseases in this way caused damage to the communities and reputations of the people who either are or even resemble certain races, ethnicities or nationalities.
The Spanish flu is a great case study of this, as it’s most similar to the pandemic we currently face. First, it’s worth mentioning that Spanish flu didn’t even come from Spain, proving just how irrational people can be when naming pandemics.
But what’s most important is that this name caused a massive xenophobic response directed at Spanish immigrants from Americans, as well as the rest of the global community, according to the American Public Health Association.
There’s no good argument for using these terms, and just because it was done in the past doesn’t mean people should continue. In fact, names like these should stop being used entirely because of all the damage they’ve already done.
Evan Holden is a freshman political science major. Contact Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org.