Friday, May 01, 2009

Racism and Swine Flu

Brian Alexander has a good piece on how swine flu has emboldened racists. It begins:

“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” conservative talk show host Michael Savage advised his U.S. listeners this week on how to avoid the swine flu. “And that starts in the restaurants" where he said, you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands!”

And Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants "criminalians" during a discussion of swine flu and saying that emergency rooms had become "essentially condos for Mexicans."

That’s tepid compared to some of the xenophobic reactions spreading like an emerging virus across the Internet. “This disgusting blight is because MEXICANS ARE PIGS!” an anonymous poster ranted on the “prison planet” forum, part of radio host and columnist Alex Jones’ Web site.

And it only gets worse from there. In fact, Americans have shown a shocking amount of racism toward Mexicans in the last few years. First, they stole our jobs when our factories closed. Then they stole our jobs by working in the United States. Then they are feeding us drugs. Then they spreading drug violence over the border. And now they are infecting us with swine flu.

For a poor country, they sure do have an amazing ability to cause all of our problems!

What really disturbs me about this recent surge of racism is the historical connections between race and animal characteristics. From portraying African-Americans as apes to the Japanese in World War II as bugs and snakes to the Irish as dogs, Americans have been more than happy to dehumanize other people by resorting to animal imagery. Connecting Mexicans and pigs may become another example of this.

If this disease wasn't supposedly spreading from Mexico and perceived as a dangerous threat from the South, would people be panicing in the same way?