As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads around the world, in its wake comes another kind of epidemic — an outbreak of anti-Asian racism and racism against im/migrants in general.
Ultra-rightists in Europe — Italy, Greece, France — are blaming the spread of the virus on migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East. From England come stories of Asian children violently targeted on school playgrounds. In social media internationally there is a continuing flood of insulting and racist anti-Chinese memes.
The U.S. has an ignominious history of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian discrimination. In the 19th century racist slanders that Chinese people carried diseases — from syphilis to the bubonic plague — were constantly used to justify discrimination. Legislators, capitalist bosses, white-only unions and “liberal” white women suffragists used this accusation to pass the infamous 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banning Chinese workers from coming to the U.S.
One hundred years after the act was passed, in 1982 two Chrysler management employees bludgeoned a Chinese restaurant worker, Vincent Chin, to death in Metro Detroit. Their hatred was fueled by reactionary, anti-Japanese “Buy America” propaganda.
Now COVID-19 is being used in the U.S. to revive old anti-Asian racist slurs. On public transportation in New York City and Los Angeles, people of Asian descent have been attacked as “diseased.” At a motel in Indiana, a registration clerk says: “Asians not allowed.” Reports come in that Uber and Lyft drivers are refusing to give rides to people with “Asian-sounding” last names.
In a since-deleted web post, the health services center of the University of California-Berkeley actually listed xenophobia toward Asians as a “normal reaction” to the spread of COVID-19.
But racism is not “normal.” In the U.S. this current epidemic of racism is the result of hundreds of years of calculated effort by bosses and capitalist owners to poison any positive connection between workers of different national backgrounds and to kill any revolutionary action by the country’s international working class.
The structure of U.S. capitalism rests on the seizure of Indigenous land and massacre of Native peoples; on the kidnapping, enslavement and unpaid labor of African peoples; and on the exploitation in wage slavery of workers who have emigrated into the country from all around the world, especially from underdeveloped areas assaulted by imperialist plunder and war.
Capitalism can only continue if workers turn against each other, distorted by the bosses’ propaganda, instead of uniting to fight against exploitation by the system. The current surge of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. calls for workers of all backgrounds to step up in solidarity against the slurs and violence. This solidarity is an essential step toward fighting the anti-union, anti worker onslaught now being mounted by the current right-wing administration.
‘Fight entrenched racism in U.S.’
The epidemic of anti-Asian racism is also a stark reminder of the necessity to fight entrenched racism in the U.S.– the ongoing violence against Indigenous people, those of African descent, Latinx im/migrants, Muslims and people perceived as Muslims. The struggle against racism has to be waged on a daily and widely organized basis — at work and in schools, in the face of police assaults, on the subway, in conversations in social spaces, in community and movement organizations. This battle has to be waged if we are to build a path forward to a more just world and toward socialism.
Concrete anti-racist solidarity that can be taken against the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic could include special support to nationally oppressed peoples, like Indigenous and African-American communities, where lack of access to insurance and health care brings greater peril during an epidemic; renewed militant action to free prisoners through bail and to close im/migrant detention camps, where infection risks are high from overcrowding and lack of health care; support to get community health and home health care workers — the majority women of color — proper protective equipment; and close attention to price controls and food distribution plans in nationally oppressed communities if areas are quarantined.
China has been an example to the world of how to limit and hopefully defeat COVID-19 by mobilizing a centralized “peoples’ response” to the COVID-19 epidemic — a response only possible because People’s China has been working since 1949 to build a path to socialism.
Let us in the workers’ and progressive movement in the U.S. strengthen our antiracist actions in response to the epidemic, so we can build solidarity that is the road to a socialist future here.