The Racism Of COVID Coverage, and How I’ve Been Racist Myself

Connecting a longer thread

The piece The Overwhelming Racism Of COVID Coverage was being shared a bit and I thought I’d share the experience behind it.

Early in the pandemic I wrote highly of East Asia until someone from Trinidad & Tobago pointed out that I was being racist by excluding people like them. Here’s her comment:

I was pissed, like me? racist? my dear?!!? I put the comment in my mental bin but it rattling about and I finally looked. When I did some reading I realized, oh shit, Herlene was right. AITA? Y. Could they have been more polite about it and tended my delicate male ego with more care? I mean maybe, but who cares? I was wrong.

So I apologized and dug into some direct sources from unexpected places, from Trinidad & Tobago to Mongolia, to Ghana to where I live, Sri Lanka. That led me to write a series of pieces on COVID Underdogs, places in the Dirty South that had exceptional responses, and I found that these weren’t exceptions.

What I’m trying to say is that what is an obvious story from a map perspective, is nonetheless not obvious from a mental map perspective, especially if you’re embedded in a western media diet. I live in the Dirty and the whole rich/white = good thing still got me.

So, hence, my point of all these articles about racism is not to condemn people, but to scold them as I have been scolded, with hopefully similar results. At the same time, however, very real people are hurt by these acts and I feel a very real anger. And I feel no need to candy-coat it, it wasn’t for me. You can take the pill or not, that’s up to you.

That is, I think people need to hear and feel anger as well. We in the poor/dark/colonized world have been looked down on for so long that we even look down on ourselves. And it is infuriating. So I am not here to ask politely for anything. I’m here to tell and, when necessary, am open to being told.

Personally, I think that everyone’s a bit racist. I have been racist. I probably still am in ways that are unrevealed to me now. I very much feel that racism is an act and not an identity (for most people). A sin and not a sinner. I think most people are racist, not racists.

As such I feel fine calling it out because I’m not condemning people. I have no such power. Read it as I have read comments against me and take what you will. I’m just emoting. If the mote it in your eye, take it out and move on.

So in that sense when I call something or someone racist, I’m really saying listen but also fuck you which seems contradictory but which can be the start of a beautiful friendship, as it has been for me. I am expressing pain as well as reason, and that — by definition — won’t be comfortable.

For me the metaphor really is pain. Perhaps our body could have come up with something more polite to tell us when we stub our toe, but then would we listen? No, we shriek and we curse, but we move our toe. What I express is the sore stubbed toe of the Dirty South, and I’m not polite about it. Move your foot.

But again, as a note to you two newsletter subscribers, mea culpa. I have been what I have scolded. I’m proud to take righteous dumps on western media, but I just want you to know that I’m not self-righteous. I’ve been the very same racism myself. But I’m not a racist. The main difference, I think, is the willingness to change.