Trump rose to power on vows to keep out Latin American and Muslim immigrants but has signaled that his intention in saying “Chinese virus” may be more about geopolitics.
“It’s not racist at all,” he told a news conference. “It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”
The United States has wide-ranging tensions with China and Trump voiced anger over a Beijing official who promoted an unfounded conspiracy theory that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan, where cases were first reported.
China’s foreign ministry has accused Trump of seeking to shift blame over his own response to the pandemic.
Frank H. Wu, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and author of “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White,” acknowledged that diseases were long given geographical names and said it was fair game to criticize Beijing’s actions.
“What’s important here isn’t the intent. It’s the consequences. And these words matter, because this is a time of incredible stress,” Wu said.
Wu said that Asian Americans have long been associated with dirtiness, pointing to contemporary perceptions of Chinese restaurants.
“Cleanliness has always been a metaphor for whether you’re a morally deserving, good individual and part of a good community,” he said.
“So this isn’t actually about just disease and the source of disease. It’s symbolic of much, much more.”