OP-EDS

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March 7, 2020

Hey IOP Whiteboard Girl, Stop Using Others’ Trauma to Weaponize Your Political Opinion

The "IOP Whiteboard Girl"'s comments trivialized the sufferings of those affected by coronavirus and insulted Chinese and Asian-American communities.


Jessica Xia / The Chicago Maroon

Dear Evita,

Here is why your whiteboard message was insensitive, offensive, and racist: You treated an extremely traumatic event for Chinese people around the world as nothing but a way to weaponize your own political opinion, which you could have sufficiently expressed without any mentions of the outbreak.

You see, my grandparents live in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Both of them are almost 80 years old and have underlying health conditions like high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, which make them both very susceptible to the coronavirus and more likely to die if infected.

Since virtually all modes of transportation in and out of Wuhan have been shut down in the last month, if anything happens to them, their daughter who lives in a nearby province has no way of reaching them.

When asked about why you would vote by the Institute of Politics (IOP), you could have easily expressed your concern about socialism without mentioning the coronavirus. You could have said, “I vote because socialism would destroy America.” Yet you didn’t. You chose to add that “coronavirus won’t destroy America,” but for what purpose?

In your op-ed, you defended your message by saying, “The fact is, as awful as the coronavirus is…its number of victims pales in comparison to the tens of millions of people who have died at the hands of socialism and communism.”

Your statement is factually true, and judging by the comments under your op-ed, many agree with you. But the question is, regardless of what ideologies you do and don’t believe in, why do you feel the need to compare the casualties of the coronavirus to those of socialism and communism? Why is this comparison relevant or necessary?

My guess is that you find pointing out how small the casualty of a health crisis is to be a convenient way to strengthen your argument against electing Bernie Sanders, whose signature policy is universal health care. In doing so, you have reduced the coronavirus outbreak to nothing but a tool that validates your political opinion and makes your whiteboard message catchy.

And that is what’s wrong with your message. You did not respond to an ongoing public health crisis, a tragedy that has killed over 3,000, and a collective trauma for Chinese people, with sympathy, empathy, or concern. Instead, you thought: Aha, what a great opportunity for me to express my dislike for Bernie Sanders.

I do not condone any of the threats that you have received or the cyberbullying you have experienced. You don’t deserve it, and I am very sorry about what you have been through. But I find it concerning that you seem to think that people who criticized you were all college libtards “hiding behind accusations of ‘xenophobia’ and ‘racism.’” Since you are so quick to harp on your identity as a Hispanic woman, I am sure you don’t need me to explain to you why it is racist to treat the sufferings of marginalized communities as trivial, especially when that suffering is ongoing.

As for why your message was xenophobic, it’s even more obvious: You made Chinese students feel like our trauma is unrecognized and unimportant at this school. Your message suggests that our trauma is only worthy of being the backdrop of “important” discussions like capitalism vs. socialism.

Chinese students at this school don’t have to have any personal connections to Wuhan like I do to feel the pain. We see the death toll rising. We see how this virus has torn apart families. We witness the fear of our family members and friends, not knowing how much longer their lives will be put on hold.

Even though we don’t currently live in China, we are not shielded from the influence of the outbreak. The coronavirus outbreak has amplified racism toward Asians around the globe. Singaporean Jonathan Mok was attacked in London by a group of men who yelled “I don’t want your virus in my country,” sustaining bruises and serious injuries on February 24. A couple of days ago, Jiye Seong-Yu, a Korean woman, was nearly punched off of her bike.

We are still mourning our dead and figuring out how to process our trauma. Just two weeks ago, Chinese students at this school hosted a vigil for Dr. Li Wenliang, a whistleblower for the coronavirus outbreak who passed away due to complications of the virus. Instead of being met with support, we open Facebook and see one of our peers smiling at the camera while holding a sign that belittles our experience.

What you did was not standing up for your beliefs. What you did was dismissing and hijacking our trauma for your personal benefit. But 3,000 people did not die so you could make some provocative comment and launch yourself into a segment on Fox News. In China, we have a saying that the pain of losing our fellow citizens is the same as sustaining physical injuries ourselves (吾人闻同胞之死所感之痛苦与自身之创伤所感之痛苦,于其种类故无差别). We feel the pain, and you should learn to respect it.

So the next time someone asks you about why you vote, just answer it directly. Say you are concerned about the impact of socialism on the American economy and culture. Your point will get across just fine. And better yet, exercise your right to vote at the upcoming election and choose a leader who won’t destroy America. But stop using other people’s trauma as a vehicle to express your political opinions. Trivializing a global health crisis that has heavily impacted not only China but also Japan, South Korea, Italy, Iran, the U.S., and many others will do nothing to help your case against socialism. Treat the coronavirus outbreak as what it is: a tragedy that deserves recognition and respect.

P.S. Since the IOP came to your defense, here is a brief message for Mr. David Axelrod as well. You contend that people’s sharp responses are mainly aimed at the second half of Evita’s message about socialism, and maybe that is true for some people. But the statement that the minimization of coronavirus alone isn’t sufficient to elicit sharp responses from the student body is dismissive in itself. So if you can’t fathom that anyone is more outraged by the first part rather than the second part of her message, you are hearing one right now. Feel my anger.

Darcy Kuang is a third-year in the College and a deputy news editor. 

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