It’s the Coronavirus, not the “China Virus”: COVID 19, Racism, and The Damaging Power of Targeted Language

Hannah Spadafora
7 min readApr 29, 2021

I recently had a conversation with someone who repeatedly used the words “China Virus” to describe the Coronavirus — a term popularized by Donald Trump, even as he also has (characteristically) provided contradictory statements enough to ride the wave of propaganda fueled plausible deniability of his intentions to incite racist violence or influence his followers with racist thinking, even as he repeatedly finds new ways to scapegoat and humiliate marginalized communities. The person I was speaking with got very upset that I would not reiterate to him the phrase, “China Virus,” instead replacing it with it’s more formal name, and even more upset when I responded to his inquiry of why I replaced it to say that the term is ignorant and a bit racist, saying, to him, it would always be the “f***ing ‘China Virus.’”

This conversation was overheard by others, and later, I had another conversation that provoked me to continually think on the matter. This discussion was with someone who used the comparison situation of swearing, which this person finds offensive, and the relayed viewpoints of a group of individuals who apparently asserted in discussion about my overheard conversation that “China Virus” is a “racial” or “racialized” term, but not a racist term — an agreed upon designation by this group resting on a judgement that it is effectively not necessarily racist enough to edit out — or at least not racist enough to warrant calling it out. I was told I needed to leave /my/ bias out of the equation.

While I do think perhaps I could have handled the situation better, which I’m intentionally leaving out names and details for to protect work-related confidentiality, I still feel that repeating the term under the assertion of ‘just doing my job’ stands against my dedication to the eightfold path of Buddhist living — a major component being ‘right livelihood’, which means making sure your ethics aren’t left at the door when you enter your working life, and your working life should not include unethical requirements. Letting the culpability be shifted to the next hands it falls into means I’ve failed at the front line of my life. My Jewish upbringing has also always made me wary of slippery slopes of justification for violating principles to make a paycheck, or falling in line to fit into a crowd marching the wrong direction with the Nazi lament often cited of ‘just doing their jobs.’

Hannah Spadafora

Hannah Spadafora is a writer living in the Atlanta area with multiple cats and underused degrees in anthropology, philosophy, and religious studies.