H1N1 and Racism

H1N1, also known as the “swine flu,” is becoming the latest front in the battleground of racial politics (h/t to reader Residente Visitante).   There are two distinct angles to this story.

In the first, there is the disproportionate impact this epidemic is having on people of color in the U.S.   A recent NYDaily News story notes that city and federal health officials have been virtually silent about the outsize impact the pandemic appears to be having on blacks and Hispanics.  Although the Centers for Disease Control report made a passing mention in their analysis which revealed that of the first H1N1-related deaths among U.S. children, 33% (12 of 36) were among Hispanics. All told, half of the H1N1 children’s deaths between April and August were among African-Americans and Hispanics.

Perhaps quite predictably for those who are familiar with the illogic of white-framed thinking, this fact about racial disparities in health gets quickly, easily and widely misunderstood by those wishing to promote racism. Thus, enter the talking heads of the right-wing for the second angle.

Talk radio hosts Michael Savage and Neal Boortz, radio and Fox TV personality Glenn Beck, and columnist Michelle Malkin are spreading lies about the H1N1 virus through their various public media outlets, as Bonnie Fuller (admittedly, an unlikely source) points out in a recent piece at the Huffington Post. Here are just a few of the examples Fuller cites:

“Illegal aliens are bringing in a deadly new flue strain. Make no mistake about it,” blares Michael Savage.

“I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the US as a result of uncontrolled immigration,” writes Michelle Malkin.

“What happens if there’s a rash of deaths in Mexico… and if you’re a family in Mexico and people are dying and Americans are not, why wouldn’t you flood this border?” announces Glenn Beck.

What these kinds of comments reveal, in addition to rank racism, is a complete lack of understanding about racial disparities in health.  The facts are these:  H1N1 is not being spread by immigrants to native-born U.S. citizens.  Early in the epidemic, some U.S. college students traveled to Mexico, got sick, and came back to the U.S. and they spread the disease.   Why aren’t Savage, Malkin and Beck blaming college students for the spread of this disease?     Furthermore, the fact that Blacks and Latinos are dying at higher rates than whites from H1N1 is a consequence of institutionalized racism, not the cause of the epidemic.   Once again, hate-mongers with network contracts rather than robes and hoods, find a way to inject racism into the national discourse.

President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize: Prepare for Racist Backlash

Today, the leading news story is that President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples.”

Given the vitriol that’s been directed at Obama throughout his campaign and since his election as president, much of it fueled by racism, I predict that this amazing news will prompt a torrent of racist backlash.  There’s some precedent for this if we look to the historic example of the reaction when Martin Luther King won the Nobel Prize in 1964.  As James Fallows wrote in 2007 (after Al Gore won the Nobel):

“I am old enough… well, there are many ways to end that sentence, but for now: I am old enough to remember, from my school years, the disdainful reaction in my home town to the news that Martin Luther King had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The reaction was, of course, racial at its root. This was a majority-white, minority-Hispanic small town with very few black residents, which went for Barry Goldwater over Lyndon Johnson in the presidential election that same fall.

But the stated form of the objection concerned not King’s race but his obnoxiousness as a man. He was a windbag. He was pompous and self-dramatizing, He was holier than thou. Plus, he had started getting involved where he didn’t belong, in raising questions about the Vietnam War. Through the rest of Martin Luther King’s life, the father of my best home-town friend always went out of his way to refer sneeringly to “Martin Luther Nobel.”

I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this prediction and see everyone celebrate this award.