Ebola and the many faces of racism

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There is one feature that defines Ebola above all others. It’s scary. It’s a legitimately frightening virus. The mortality for this particular strain is about 70%. Not great odds if it gets you. There’s no cure and no vaccine. Scary stuff. It’s also illegitimately scary. It’s a disease that makes it into our fiction and our movies as something that is the ultimate fear. Heck, in a telling psychological reveal, Tom Clancy crossed cancer with Ebola in one of his books. Because nothing says, “your deadly virus isn’t scary enough unless we add cancer to it. There are people walking around in space suits for crying out loud. It’s scary stuff. The virus is so scary it’s brought out the worst in people. One politician suggested that anyone associated with the virus should be summarily executed. Proof if proof was needed that fear makes people stupid. It’s also brought out frighteningly ugly bigotry in people.

Racism is usually about fear and control (when it isn’t about hatred and greed, but hey, who said your average person can’t be complex). And a virus epitomizes that fear and loss of control. It’s unsurprising that the bigots on both sides of the racial divide would crawl out of the woodwork on this one. Sad. But unsurprising. The brutal hurtful comments. This is one form of racism.

Overt swastika wearing white sheeted racists are out there but they are not the most common form of it. Next out there are the “but” people. “I’m not racist, but…” “I feel bad but…” Sorry folks, your “black friend” isn’t getting you out of this one. These are the people who are sympathetic to the plight of the rest of the world, but only if it doesn’t cost them anything. We get it. You’re broke. You’re stressed. You don’t have the time or the money to help. In fact, dealing with the Ebola problem is to hard with everything we’ve got going on right now. Better to recall the troops. Close the borders, stick thermometers into travelers where the sun doesn’t shine. This kind of selfishness is a form of racist bigotry because it only exists in an us vs them mindset. And “them” will always be inferior to you. And hey we know you wish things could be different but that’s how the world works.

Finally you’ve got the most common form of racism. Blindness. It’s easy to ignore the problems in the world when they don’t affect you. When the collective “you” is a racial group it’s bigotry. It shows up a lot of places. With Ebola it showed up continuously from about 2010 to now with the nearly constant budget cuts. Ebola wasn’t here yet. Neither was Dengue, Malaria, sleeping sickness, and a host of other diseases that we don’t have in this country. No we did patently and obviously useless things like “walk for the cure” or the “ice bucket challenge”. At the same time we cut real tangible and useful services like science funding. The way we handle government expenditures is writhe with racist ideations. It’s been said that had it not been for the sequestration we might have had a vaccine. This kind of pound foolish short term thinking is lunacy. Not only have we been directly, if mildly harmed, we have failed to help countless millions who now suffer. People’s callous disregard for others is the height of racist bigotry.

We have three forms of racist bigotry. The hateful white supremacist who hates minorities obviously and passionately. You have your “but people” who can help but won’t. And finally we have people who are quietly enriching themselves in subtle ways at the expense of their long term good and others immediate harm.


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