Over the past few days, President Trump has been more and more blatant in his xenophobic efforts to paint the coronavirus as a “Chinese” virus, thus shunting blame off of himself for bungling the response to the pandemic while also feeding into right-wing jingoism and Sinophobia.
It appears his efforts are trickling down into the rest of the administration, as shown by the appalling term used by a White House staffer this morning — to the horror of CBS White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, who is Chinese-born.
This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the “Kung-Flu” to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) March 17, 2020
“Kung-Flu” is the inevitable progression of the term “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus” being promoted by the President and the rest of the right-wing media, which is intent on using the opportunity to both demonize the Chinese and shift responsibility from the wildly negligent Trump team to China.
Since the crisis began, conspiracy theories have been rampant on right-wing social media and eventually trickled into mainstream discussion. Racist stereotypes about Chinese eating habits led to the “bat soup” meme, which posited that the consumption of exotic animals was responsible for the virus. The meme was based off of mislocated videos from a travel blogger of restaurant patrons eating bat soup at the Seafood House in Palau, a Pacific island archipelago near the Phillippines.
Of course, that didn’t matter to people like FOX News’ Jesse Watters, who said on his show that Chinese people were “very hungry people” who eat “raw bats and snakes” and demanded an “apology” from China for the virus. He did not get one, but neither did he retract his wildly offensive remarks.
The theories that the virus originated in a bioweapons facility in Wuhan province have been similarly debunked, but that hasn’t stopped right-wing media figures like Rush Limbaugh and even sitting United States Senators like Tom Cotton (R-AR) from promoting the idea.
For a Trump official to use the term “Kung Flu” speaks to both how deeply racism is embedded in every level of the administration but also to how unseriously they’re taking a pandemic that has already killed 2,500 people in Italy alone.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.