4 Types of Ebola Panic That Are Secretly Racist
Cracked already covered how Ebola isn't going to send society spiraling into a 28 Days Later-style apocalypse, and we're not the only ones: real news websites like NBC News, The Washington Post, and The Guardian have all told us to calm the hell down. Hell, National Geographic mentioned that we'd be fine back in July, before the virus even got here. But somehow people are still panicking -- so what's the deal?
Basically, Ebola is something of a perfect storm of panic. It appeals to weird bullshit buried in society, exploiting a lot of fears that we should've outgrown decades ago. Which is why all the Ebola coverage you're seeing makes the same assumptions. For example ...
Our Coverage Is Making Africa Seem Like a Plague-Infested Wasteland
Ebola is so fucking scary that if I were to describe the symptoms right now, I'd completely ruin the article. The phrase "shit your own guts out" should be used only in comedy as a metaphor, and even then it should appear sparingly, because, dude, gross. So it's sorta expected for the media to make Ebola into their new supervillain, even if they're being pretty irresponsible about it. What's weird is that they insist on making all of Africa into Ebola's Skull Island, and every African a member of the Nefarious Ebola Army.
Don't know what I'm talking about? Check out this cover story that ran in Newsweek:
As awesome as "undercover abortion wars" sounds, I'm going to ask you to focus on Ebola for me.
It's all about how smuggled "bushmeat" (that is, meat from animals you hunted, versus from domesticated animals) could bring an Ebola infection into America. The problem is that every single aspect of that is bullshit. First, there's no chance whatsoever that smuggled meat could bring the disease into America, and second, pretty much no one in the so-called "Ebola zone" regularly eats chimpanzees. So what's the deal with the monkey on the cover?
Also: fucking "bushmeat"? Why not just say "game"? That's what we call it when Americans kill and eat wild animals. Is it because, maybe, saying "bushmeat" sounds more weird and primitive, making Africa out to be a scary, dangerous, foreign place -- something I've already pointed out is a weirdly common form of modern bullshit?
Pictured: Africa. I'll give you a second to pick your brains up off the floor.
If it sounds like I'm over-analyzing this one story, then think about how many "Ebola is scary!" stories focus on how dirty and gross Africa is -- while stories about Nigeria quickly and efficiently controlling the disease are treated as a mysterious anomaly that must be thoroughly investigated so that we can glean Nigeria's strange, foreign secrets.
But when you read the article, you find out the answer is pretty simple: "What Nigeria did is routine, regular -- but vigorous and rigorous -- public health practice," according to the expert interviewed for the article. So that solves that mystery. We're talking about Africa with the same misguided condescension normally reserved for the disabled: "Wow! you managed to put your pants on all by yourself! Good job understanding the basics of society, entire continent of Africa!"
But it goes beyond run-of-the-mill condescension and gets pretty freaky, because ...
We're Reacting to Ebola Fear by Being Racist Dicks
"But those horrifying pictures of poor Africans are meant to invoke sympathy!" some people are saying. Sure, that might be the intention, but when it's absorbed as part of a huge story told through the entire media, it just motivates us to be fucking terrified and defensively angry at anyone we assume might be associated with Ebola. And by "be associated with Ebola" we mean "look even a little foreign."
There was the black high school kid getting taunted during a football game by students chanting "Ebola," because his parents are originally from Guinea and high school kids are fucking dicks. There's also a college near Dallas that has started outright rejecting any international student from any country with a confirmed ebola case (excluding the U.S., I assume) -- even Nigeria, which as I just mentioned, is so good at Ebola that the American CDC sent experts there to learn the ancient Nigerian anti-Ebola-fu. And all around the country, anyone of West African descent is getting funny looks any time they cough, sneeze, or insidiously try to shake your hand. Finally, any minorities who lived in the same neighborhood as the so-called "patient zero" are being asked not to come to work and turned away from restaurants, because one of the first symptoms of Ebola is darker skin and kinky hair, right? Right? I feel like I read that somewhere.
"Sir, I'm afraid you are Ebola.
But does this really seem that much crazier than the psycho on Fox News who thinks that Obama doesn't actually want to protect America from Ebola because he's secretly an African leader who's holding us hostage with fear (seriously, read that article, it's fucking hilarious)? Both of these things are just people saying, "I'm afraid of black people and I desperately want an excuse, any excuse, seriously I'm up for anything right now, how strong are these gin and tonics." And then Ebola pops up, licks its lips, and is all, "Hey there tiger, how about I make you a gin and tonic you'll never forget?" And the crazy racist is like, "Oh yeah, baby, where have you been all my life. Quick, let's make a beautiful hashtag together, right here, while no one is looking."
That's not fake! A person made that! A real person!
So far this is all modern stuff, and it's actually fairly run-of-the-mill when it comes to documenting reactionary racism in America. But once you start digging into the history of how we've reacted to Ebola and compare it with how we've reacted to other diseases, things get way weirder, and way more dangerous ...
We Want to Ban Travel Only for Diseases From "Scary" Places
So now we're all into this travel ban that would stop any and all flights between the United States and African countries that have documented cases of Ebola. On first glance, this probably seems like it makes a ton of sense: the first patient came into this country by flight, and stopping people from bringing the disease in should protect us. Then on second, third, and all subsequent glances, it seems like the dumbest fucking idea in the world. Desperate sick people would just sneak into the country to get medical care rather than come here willingly, which would make the disease harder to track. American doctors wouldn't be able to travel abroad to provide aid, because they wouldn't be allowed back. Poor nations would be denied help from the first world, which wouldn't be the best thing since the only reason Ebola is a problem is because it's been allowed to run rampant (again, look at how quickly and easily America and Nigeria stopped it). Then there are a million more reasons not to do this. But all that ignores the real question, which is why are we even talking about travel bans in the first place?
"It's either Ebola or #Gamergate, and Ebola is less disgusting."
Look: Ebola is nowhere near the scariest disease out there right now, nor is it the most difficult to control. Swine flu killed 12,000 Americans in 2009, which is three times as many people who have died in all of Africa during this latest Ebola outbreak, so why weren't we talking about travel bans for infected areas then? Maybe because the U.S. has never instituted a travel ban for a specific country, ever. But even swine flu got more media attention than enterovirus D68, which may have killed seven people in the United States, and has been detected throughout the majority of the U.S., but isn't yet fully understood and doesn't even have a fucking name. Oh, and there's also the fact that measles has spiked for the first time in over a decade.
But all these illnesses pale in comparison to MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant illnesses. A disease like that -- which is resistant or immune to our most powerful drugs -- has the potential to send us back to a pre-antibiotic world. That means that any infection, no matter how small, has the potential to kill you -- and there's not a goddamn thing any doctor can do about it.
I'm pretty sure I know why no one gives a shit about MRSA. Antibiotic-resistant illnesses were created by the overuse of antibiotics, by people who try to treat everything from headaches to the flu with antibiotics, even though antibiotics don't do anything to viruses. But we're not freaking out about those end-of-the-world scenarios because the people responsible -- the people who could afford to overuse expensive antibiotics -- are predominantly rich, white, and by definition meticulously clean. Those people sound awesome. Way better than dirty, dirty Africans, right? They look like zombies!
The difference between "pity" and "sympathy" is whether or not the sick person can afford makeup.
So we'll never blame the irresponsible antibiotics users, even after their mistakes render all our medical technology useless and send us hurtling back to the stone age, because at the end of the day ...
We're Not Really Scared of Ebola
America has been freaking out about diseases for a long time, because diseases are scary. And if you study the history of these panics, one thing becomes clear: the best way to make us freak out about the disease is to connect it to something that we don't want to openly admit we're afraid of.
Look at the history of AIDS: 23,000 Americans had died before the U.S. government acknowledged that it was a problem, and once they did they made sure to point out that it was a dirty disease that infected dirty people. "Let's be honest with ourselves," President Reagan told us. "When it comes to preventing AIDS, don't medicine and morality teach the same lessons?" We didn't care about AIDS until we found a solution that came in the form of openly hating an entire group of people, and then we hopped on that train like it was the last ride out of Ebola town: children were were nationally humiliated, and we spread insane rumors about how you could be infected. Sure, people were misinformed about how communicable the disease was, but isn't it a convenient fucking coincidence that this misinformation gave them the perfect excuse to publicly hate homosexuals and black people? We can go further back: in the 19th century, we were gettin' all racist at Chinese immigrants and came up with "Chinese syphilis" as an excuse to hate them. We can at least give ourselves points for imagination, there.
Every great monster is scary for what it represents. Because repressed, shameful fears are always the most effective. We don't want to admit they're there and we don't know how to face them head-on. Fear of Ebola isn't just based on racism -- but I'm pretty sure much of our societal reaction is.
So either Newsweek put a monkey on the cover of their magazine because they knew it would make us think of Africa as an uncivilized and dirty place while tacitly reinforcing the centuries-old idea that Africans are monkeys because they knew tying racism and fear together was the best way to sell magazines, or -- or -- they completely coincidentally and innocently got all the facts about Ebola wrong in a weirdly specific way that allowed them to take advantage of all that. Either way, they're putting money in their pockets by keeping us scared and confused, right? That's scarier than some disease you're never gonna get, isn't it?
For more from Sarge, check out 4 Weird Decisions That Have Made Modern Cops Terrifying and 5 Uncomfortable Truths Behind the Men's Rights Movement.
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