Racializing Disease

I sat down twice today to write a post comparing the discourses of HIV/AIDs then and now, ebola, the bird flu, and now the swine flu. I’d even written a pithy comparison to Tales of World War Z, a fascinating blend of zombie pathogen and socio-political commentary that occassionally takes stereotype a bit too far but mostly remains in the realm of cultural critique and satirization.  And twice today, the computer came crashing down. Se va mi post. Se va.

I don’t have it in me to write it a third time, at least not tonight. But I leave you with a thought:

  •  who or what is served by pathologizing pathogens and racializing disease?

Infection is not more easily prevented by making it an African (or gay male), Asian, or Mexican; in fact these narratives increase spread by erroneously exempting all other populations as potentially infected or in need of outreach and intervention. Nerves rest no easier when diseases are anthropormphized into bodied with brown faces; instead, they are heightened and the safety of  people of color (or gay people) is compromised as the are all transformed into “typhoid marys” (as Chris Matthews called Mexican nationals today on MSNBC). Even as the WHO argues that there is no border patrol nor deportation technique that will stop the spread, pundits point both to Mexico as a “failure jeopardizing the world” and to immigrants as targets to be rounded up and disposed of.  In many ways, as I argued in the much more entertaining version of this post, it mirrors those ridiculous efforts in World War Z that ended in abandoning people and bombing others b/c they had been labeled disposable and diseased.

It seems to me, we need to do a lot more work on the ways oppressions and disease go together from the perspective of pandemics, be it the targeting of immigrants when yellow fever hit or the fear of the queer when HIV was still called “the gay cancer,” we seem to have missed how little the rhetoric of race and/or marginalization protects anyone from what is essentially a raceless microbe traveling indiscriminately from body to body until it finds an ideal place to rest.

And while I am asking the question that dares to move past hysteria to ramfications of that hysteria, I have another one eating at me:

  • who is served by blaming a government whose people is dying?

149 people have died in mexico while pundits, some news outlets, and conservatives start pointing fingers first at the Mexican government and no doubt later at the poor, who are likely to be hardest hit. Neither rabid nationalism nor old foreign relations tactics that place political interests over human health have ever helped people avoid infection and in some cases it has led to the targeting and isolation of groups of people who may not have ever been carriers while others who are roam untreated.

Thoughts about the rhetoric? Thoughts about the dis-ease?


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