[Column] Trump’s botched COVID-19 response has underlying tones of racism

Posted on : 2020-06-01 17:37 KST Modified on : 2020-06-01 17:37 KST
The global pandemic has underlined America’s tragic racial divide
US President Donald Trump following a White House press conference regarding the US revoking Hong Kong’s special trade status on May 29. (Yonhap News)
US President Donald Trump following a White House press conference regarding the US revoking Hong Kong’s special trade status on May 29. (Yonhap News)

There are numerous inexplicable aspects of the US’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Donald Trump argues that masks are unnecessary, recommends the use of hydroxychloroquine, a medication whose efficacy remains unverified, and disregards the recommendations of disease control experts; in essence, the federal government is sitting on its hands.

It’s baffling to see individual states and cities left to their own devices as they try to combat the coronavirus. The states are forced to compete with each other to buy masks and diagnostic kits. Maryland even mobilized the National Guard to protect a shipment of 500,000 diagnostic kits imported from South Korea, afraid that the kits might be appropriated by the federal government; those kits are now being stored in a secret location.

That raises the question of why the US, a country with the finest hospitals and doctors, has failed to secure a decent supply of masks, gloves, and other medical equipment. One possibility is that its failure is deliberate.

I see the US’ response to the pandemic as a continuation of the white supremacy of the late 19th century. I’m talking about the argument advanced under the bogus scientific theory of eugenics that the white race is superior and other races inferior and that therefore minority populations should be suppressed or exterminated.

Trump’s COVID-19 policies are a continuation of eugenics

Eugenics was based on Social Darwinism, itself a mutation of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The ideology transmuted a theory of animal evolution into a theory of racial evolution. In short, eugenicists argued, whites are the outstanding finished product of evolution, but blacks, Asians, and Indians are uncivilized and inferior races that are still in the process of evolution. Therefore, those other races could only evolve through fierce competition, a view that justified the rapacious imperialism in Asia and Africa practiced by Caucasian-dominated states in America and Europe.

Eugenicists held that minority races are inferior and that their populations should be curbed. A surge in their populations, eugenicists warned, could threaten the white race and lead to the collapse of Western civilization. This led Caucasian-dominated states to ban the immigration of people of color and to adopt the position that such populations should be allowed to expire.

Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic represents a continuation of the policies of eugenics. Many think that Trump’s response was the work of Stephen Miller, one of his closest aides in the White House. Miller is a classic supporter of eugenics, a member of the far right and an opponent of immigration. One book that’s treated like gospel by far-right white supremacists is the 1973 French novel “The Camp of the Saints,” written by Jean Raspail. The novel shows France being overwhelmed by masses of hungry non-white immigrants and refugees in a warning of the collapse of Western civilization. The novel portrays people of color as starving, uncivilized monsters who will stoop to any means to plunder what belongs to the whites.

People of color in the US have suffered terribly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Blacks face the greatest risk of death; among blacks aged 65 and above, the mortality rate is disportionately higher than that of other races. Asian and Latino small business owners and workers are also suffering much greater economic harm than the more prosperous whites.

Eugenics justifies the callous dismissal of people’s death as being inevitable. Indeed, the failure to take any action has basically paved the way for the death of the sick, poor, and helpless, including huge numbers of the elderly and people of color. More than 100,000 people have already died in the US, and that number is likely to keep climbing and eventually approach 150,000. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out a 21st century version of white supremacy that shuts out immigrants and leaves people of color to die. And the culprit is none other than US President Donald Trump.

I’m also concerned that the US’ insulting approach to its defense cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea may be based on racist sentiments. Demanding that Korea agree to an absurdly high financial contribution, one that the US set in advance, defies common sense; it’s no way to treat an ally. Koreans need to learn up on American racism and white supremacy and find ways to counter it.

By Edward Taehan Chang, professor of ethnic studies at the University of California at Riverside

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles