Freedom of speech as the last refuge of racist hater: GWU asylum for racism reflects double standard of US society
Published: Feb 10, 2022 06:36 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

On February 3, a series of blatantly discriminatory posters insulting Chinese students appeared on the campus of George Washington University (GWU). The most malicious one depicted a curling player wearing a shirt with the Chinese national flag using the COVID-19 virus instead of a curling stone. Unsurprisingly, such a racist poster totally delegitimizing and demonizing China evoked the Chinese students' rightful protest. 

Mark S. Wrighton, president of GWU, shocked by the toxic and discriminatory nature of the posters, initially admitted in an email that he was "personally offended" and "saddened" by those discriminatory images. On February 7, however, Wrighton suddenly turned his back on the Chinese students who pleaded with him for protection from racism, and eventually chose to bow to the anti-China agenda perpetrated by the US media in recent years. His initial caring for Chinese students was quickly thrown to the wind. He published an indifferent statement on February 7 claiming that the posters were not "racist," but "political statements" and that the university "will not take any action against the students who displayed the posters" because he "supports freedom of speech, even when it offends people." 

Using "freedom of speech" as an excuse to spread irresponsible lies delegitimizing China has actually been a common practice in the West for decades. GWU's decision to grant asylum to hate speech is another shameful page in the terrifying phenomenon of racist double standard targeting Chinese people in American society today. The sudden and fundamental flip of Wrighton's attitude toward the posters also clearly demonstrates that much of American society today is so indulged in launching a witch-hunt against the Chinese that it cannot even tolerate a university president granting the minimum degree of protection to save students from racist demonization. 

In order to demonstrate a rupture with its notorious history of racism, apartheid, and slavery, the US has been trying to portray itself as a state of diversity and often utilizes a set of political correctness and social taboos to disguise its severe class inequalities. In 2017, a white firefighter lost his job because he brought a watermelon as a gift to his African American colleague and the action was deemed "offensive and racially insensitive." In 2019, American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was forced to apologize for her allegedly "anti-Semitic" tweet suggesting that the US-Israel alliance was based on the money of the Israel lobby. 

We don't intend to debate about whether those aforementioned accusations of racism are legitimate or not, and we don't think that those cases can cover the bloody fact that minorities in the US, especially people of color, are facing systematic discrimination, mass incarceration, severe poverty, and structural violence. Those two aforementioned cases, however, show that US society at least has a sense of political correctness in protecting minorities like African Americans and the Jewish people, although one may argue that this limited protection is sometimes half-hearted or even hypocritical. When it comes to the Chinese, however, even such a minimum degree of protection from racism cannot be found, as the current case of the GWU incident shows. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the US tended to associate Chinese people's racial identity with COVID-19. Many US media outlets often used the words "Wuhan coronavirus." This campaign of racist xenophobia toward the Chinese people reached its peak when former US president Donald Trump called COVID-19 the "China virus" and "Kung Flu." Encouraged by those racist statements associating Chinese racial identity with the pandemic, the cases of hate crimes rampantly rose in the US. According to a research by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, the number of anti-Asian hate crime cases skyrocketed to an unprecedented level: There was a 339 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021 compared with the previous year. 

The Chinese diaspora in the US still vividly remember the recent trauma of being targeted for their ethnic backgrounds, and the appearance of a malicious poster demonizing the Chinese people as carriers of the coronavirus suddenly reminded the Chinese students of all of discrimination, threats, and oppression that they suffered since 2020. 

Wrighton emphasized the Chinese ethnic background of the malicious third-rate internet painter of the posters as an excuse to argue that the posters are immune to the accusation of being racist. But just as Stella Goldschlag's Jewish ethnic background cannot cover her atrocious crime of collaboration with the Nazis, the ethnic background of the painter does not matter at all since those racist posters will inevitably encourage American society to stigmatize Asians as COVID carriers, eventually leading to a continuous increase of hate crimes against Asians. Posters that associate a certain ethnicity or race of people with a virus are nefarious propaganda which will inevitably encourage hate crimes against a certain ethnic group. They should not be tolerated by abusing the term "freedom of speech".

In the year 2022, 140 years after the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted in 1882, we are disappointed, frustrated, and sorrowful to witness the emergence of anti-Chinese racism in the land of the US again. What is worse than the existence of malicious racism is that GWU, as a microcosm of American society, allows a double standard exclusively targeting the Chinese people, and it is a shame that racism is now able to seek refuge in the abused concept of "freedom of speech."

The authors are alumni of the George Washington University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn