Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Spreading the virus

I think, thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is now clearer to everyone that the Washington Times not only dallies with racists, it is, at its core (as Atrios suggests), a racist propaganda organ, being led from the top by neo-Confederates and similar kinds of right-wing extremists, its staff similarly riddled with the like-minded.

As if to erase any doubts remaining in the wake of the SPLC's devastating report, the Times recently ran a "special report" warning that immigrants were also bringing with them a fresh tide of "imported diseases":
In addition to a list of imported diseases that includes tuberculosis, sickle cell anemia, hepatitis B, measles and the potentially deadly parasitic disease Chagas, officials fear what could happen if the avian flu, which is flourishing among poultry in Southeast Asia, mutates so that it is capable of human-to-human transmission through casual contact.

So, why include sickle-cell anemia in this laundry list of otherwise contagious diseases, other than that we already know that it is associated with nonwhites? As the Mayo Clinic explains:
Sickle cell anemia is a lifelong, inherited blood disease. People who have the disease usually receive the diagnosis as infants. The disease causes red blood cells to change from healthy, round red blood cells to sickly and crescent-shaped ones. The disorder causes anemia and pain, among other problems.

Another site explains further:
Sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait are not contagious. They are passed genetically from parents to their children.

What's especially worth noting is how the Times piece won the rapid endorsement of supposed "mainstream" conservatives, like Michelle Malkin, who proceeded to post on "contagious and other diseases". As the Liberal Avenger puts it:
We know that sickle cell anemia isn't "contagious," nor is it an indicator that the carrier is poor, dirty, has poor hygiene, has a poor diet, etc. It is a genetic disease that indicates only ancestry in a region plagued by malaria. It does not, Malkin-defenders, mean that they have malaria.

Given that this undesirable condition is genetic, what then might we change in our immigration policy to weed out immigrants carrying this undesirable trait? The only choice is genetic testing. Does that sound right? We should subject immigrants to testing to see if they carry the sickle cell anemia trait and then what -- deny them entry to the country if they do?

Would this brave new policy extend to immigrants who are already in this country? Should we start testing retroactively?

Malkin also makes a note that "Canada has a problem too".

Well, yes, it does. But as it happens -- contrary to the shrill information contained at the link to which she directs her readers -- according to Canadian health officials, the highest-risk groups in Canada for tuberculosis today are not Asians, but First Nation people, that is, Inuits and Indians. Should we begin deporting them as well?

The site to which Michelle directs us, Canada First, is a virulently anti-immigrant organization that commonly refers to immigrants in derogatory terms and using degrading stereotypes, with links to reports on cockroaches in Chinese restaurants and the like. Indeed, the anti-Asian bigotry at Canada First is barely concealed; odd that the daughter of Asian immigrants would find their views worth citing.

All this has a familiar ring to students of American history. The very same kind of associations -- equating immigrants with pestilence -- were part and parcel of previous nativist outbreaks in the United States, particularly those in which the targets were Asians. Here's an excerpt from Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer's The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (1991, University of Illinois Press), pp. 37-38:
In addition to the stench, filth, crowding, and general dilapidation with which Chinatown was accused of afflicting the community, another serious charge was made that the Chinese were introducing foreign diseases among the whites. For instance, it was claimed by both civil and medical authorities that Chinese men and women were afflicted with venereal disease to an uncommon degree. The Chinese prostitutes were accused of luring young boys into their houses and of infecting them with the disease. A medical journal charged that the blood stream of the Anglo-Saxon population was being poisoned through the American men who, "by thousands nightly," visited these resorts. A cause of rather frequent concern to the officials were outbreaks of smallpox. The Chinese were suspected as the source of the disease, since cases appeared among them while they were still on shipboard. They were condemned especially for not reporting their cases of the disease. "It [Chinatown] is almost invariably the seed-bed of smallpox, whence the scourge is sent abroad into the city.

The most exciting charge under this head, however, was that the Chinese were introducing leprosy into California. The very strangeness of the disease made this charge all the more ominous. It was claimed that wherever Chinese coolies had gone leprosy had developed, and that purchasers of Chinese goods were likely to contract the disease. Dr. Charles C. O'Donnell, a politically minded physician, discovered a case in a Chinese warehouse, placed him in an express wagon and drove through the streets, haranguing the crowds on the street corners concerning the dangers to which the community was being exposed. The contention of some physicians that it was not real leprosy but rather a "sporadic case of elephantitis" did not help matters a great deal. During a period of less than ten years the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco arranged for the deportation of forty-eight cases.

The same kind of charges of being spreaders of disease appeared early in the campaign against Japanese immigrants, at the turn of the century, as I describe in my forthcoming book, Strawberry Days : How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community [see above]. This is from Chapter 1:
All along the Pacific Coast, rumors were running rampant that the Chinese Exclusion Act, up for renewal in 1902, was going to be undermined or done away with completely by insidious legislative forces from the East Coast. Combined with continuing alarms over the arrival of Japanese, sentiments were ripe for a resurgence in anti-Asian fearmongering. Leaping onto that particular stage with gusto was San Francisco’s mayor, James Duval Phelan.

A banker and native son, born in San Francisco in 1861, Phelan was elected mayor in 1896 as a Democrat and his tenure was largely undistinguished. But in 1900, he caught national attention when the city’s Board of Health “discovered” an ostensible victim of bubonic plague in the Chinatown district. Phelan declared a quarantine and blamed conditions among the Japanese and Chinese. The “plague scare” was widely reported in the nation's press, and Phelan had to scramble as local businessmen descended on him to protest that the scare was ruining their trade. The mayor quickly backed down and blamed the health board’s overzealousness. In fact, the only problem a health board inspector had been able to observe among the Japanese was that he found three Japanese men in a single tub in a local bathhouse; evidently, the inspectors were unaware that this style of washing was common in the men’s homeland.

[You can find a picture of a Phelan campaign poster at this post, as well as a more detailed discussion of the early anti-Asian-immigrant agitation.]

The Washington Times report similarly links immigrants to the influx of a seemingly exotic and potentially lethal disease: avian influenza.
The bird flu has killed at least eight Asians since early January. Several of those deaths -- in Vietnam and Thailand -- were believed to have been caused when the virus passed between people who had sustained contact. If the avian flu mutates so that it can be transmitted with only casual contact, WHO authorities predict at least 7 million and as many as 100 million would die in a worldwide pandemic.

In reality, a careful review of WHO information makes clear that avian flu is a global phenomenon, with outbreaks occurring in Europe as well. A Washington Post report on avian flu described the destruction of thousands of chickens infected with the disease in Virginia.

There is no small irony in all this, of course. Because racial bigotry is like a virus, too. Given the proper iteration -- especially by disguising itself as part of the discourse over the "war on terror" -- it can quickly spread from the fringes into the mainstream. Of course, it always takes special transmitters, modern-day Typhoid Marys, to do it. The Washington Times and Michelle Malkin fit that description to a T.

[Hat tip to Liberal Avenger.]

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