Tag Archives: racism

Stop Calling “Coronavirus” the “Chinese Virus”

From our physical wellbeing to shaking hands — from opening our home to our basic livelihood — from our emotional health to getting a haircut. 

Everything has changed. 

Facing a pandemic, many of us feel an urge to band together. Although isolation is the right course of action, it’s counterintuitive, clashing against our basic instinct to huddle in a pack. Fighting our core instincts — even for the greater good — can cause a surge in anxiety.

Uncertainty adds additional layers of anxiety, opening the emotional field for anger and fear to run wild. As I write, we don’t know how many are carrying coronavirus, symptom free, contagious. We don’t know how many will become ill. When someone coughs, we don’t know if they have a garden variety allergy, or if we’ve just been exposed. Of those who get sick, we don’t know who will have a no-big-deal cough, who will spike a high fever, who will struggle to breathe, who will need emergency care. We don’t know a ton. 

As the coronavirus plunges us into turmoil, our natural inclination is to latch onto conclusions to counteract the uncertainty, grasp at targets to unleash our anger, search for others to blame for our fear. Being all-too-human, we have a bad habit of choosing the wrong conclusion, picking the wrong target, blaming the wrong Other. At that point, our anxiety can push us to turn against each other.

These issues are exacerbated because we have leaders who aren’t cut out to be leaders. We have a president who is anything but presidential, who refuses to take responsibility for the mistakes which worsened this mess, who awards himself a ten-out-of-ten for handling the pandemic. On top of his A+ self-assessment, he states truths and untruths with equal conviction, which increases uncertainty, which in turn heightens anxiety. Many are angry at Donald Trump and his administration who did a lot of nothing for far too long, and continue to do a lot of not-nearly-enough.

I intend to express my anger in November when I vote. Until then, here’s what NOT to do: DO NOT take aim and fire at each other. I’ve heard several people (including our president) refer to “The Coronavirus” as “The Asian Virus” or “The Chinese Virus.” Each time, I feel like I’ve stepped into a time warp, back to the early 1980s, when I was seeing my first psych patients, as AIDS hit San Francisco. People referred to AIDS as a “Gay Disease,” homophobia skyrocketed, and the damage was incalculable. Folks, for the love of our country — viruses aren’t Asian or Chinese or gay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States confirmed the first person in our country to test positive for coronavirus is a man in his thirties. Yet, we’re not calling this pandemic “The Male Virus” or “The Thirties Virus.” Why? Because that would be ridiculous. But it’s no more ridiculous than attributing a virus to a specific racial heritage or a particular sexuality. So let’s call it for what it is. Homophobia is homophobia. Racism is racism. A virus is a virus. A surge in coronavirus should never be an excuse for a surge in bigotry. Now of all times, We The People need to live up to our name. 

And for the record — as a healthy coping strategy during this public health crisis, racism is an epic fail. On top of being vile, let’s be clear about the benefits of racism: THERE ARE NO BENEFITS OF RACISM. Aside from being hurtful and damaging, referring to the coronavirus as “The Chinese Virus” will give only a fleeting moment of relief. Then the next wave of emotion will surge, and you’ll need to vent again. Your anger and fear and uncertainty and anxiety will continue to spiral. From a mental health perspective, racism has enormous negative impact but absolutely no positive impact. So — and I’m being as measured as I’m able — CUT IT OUT.

Which leads to the next question — what should we do with our anger? If I’m trying to get through this pandemic with an ounce of dignity, should I rage at a president who doesn’t care one whit about me (female, liberal democrat)? Even more undignified, how can I feel personal outrage toward a virus mindlessly searching for a host environment?

A word of advice from my many years as a therapist — emotions don’t hold much stock in dignity. For the moment, I suggest we all set dignity aside, acknowledge our feelings, and respect (yes, respect) the humanness of our emotions. If you’re mad at the coronavirus or at our president, I don’t blame you one bit. If you’re afraid, you’re having a normal reaction to a scary situation. If you’re buckling under the uncertainty, you’re not alone. The goal isn’t to NOT feel whatever you do feel. The goals are to handle your emotions so that you own the feelings, rather than allowing the feelings to own you — and to channel your emotions in a way that doesn’t cause more harm, maybe even does a bit of good. 

I don’t know how the coronavirus landscape will look as this pandemic plays itself out. I do know that sooner or not sooner, later or much later, this public health crisis will turn quiet and today will become tomorrow’s yesterday. We’ll open our doors to gather, shed tears over our losses, steady each other as we find our way. Inch by inch, row by row, we’ll regroup, relearn, rebuild. Tentative and strong, we’ll venture into our next new world. Today, as individuals, let’s set the stage to take those steps together. 

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author, living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal. 

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

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Pardoning Racism, Banning Trans, Charlottesville

When I was in tenth grade, I heard a rumor that a group of football players had beaten another student to death because he was gay.

Fights were common in my high school. Gangs fought rival gangs. Boys fought over girls. Girls fought over boys. Gay students were targeted constantly.

This particular rumor was about a boy I knew by sight, but not by name. We shared no classes, had no friends in common. I noticed him in the sea of 3000 students, because he had the most astonishing blond hair I’d ever seen. As he stood in the quad, his yellow mane tumbled down his back in a stop-in-your-tracks river of gold. He was six feet tall, string-bean thin, dressed in white laced up pants, platform shoes, gauzy shirts.

One day he was gone.

My high school had a transient population, a significant number living on the streets, so this boy’s disappearance was unremarkable. Still, I felt haunted by the rumor itself, and equally by the casual way the rumor circulated. I began to ask about him, but nobody knew anything. Most chilling of all — nobody knew his name.

Decades later, I told a journalist friend that I was writing a novel about that rumor. She suggested that I visit the archives, do some research, find out if the murder actually took place. I hesitated and to my surprise, I heard myself telling her that I wasn’t writing about the real person. As the words came out of my mouth, I realized I had carried this boy deep within me since I was 15 years old, and he had taken on mythical proportions. I was writing about a fantasy figure – a homeless, undocumented, street kid — a parentless boy, who died of homophobia.  During that conversation, my novel’s silent hero was born.

As I wrote the book, I considered what to call him. I knew he’d be a curious combination of an extremely minor character, and simultaneously the most powerful presence in the novel. Should I give him a catchy nickname like Dash? A stately name like Hamilton? A likable name like Timmy? A powerful name like Rex? As I rejected one name after another, I realized that his character was grounded in his namelessness. So I kept him nameless, and built the entire plot around his namelessness.

The novel was published in 2013, years before Donald Trump was on my radar screen as a serious political figure. But now, as I watch the post election culture unfold, the divisive values that my novel fights against — a mentality of hatred and rage, of  Us vs. Them — those values have become our day-to-day reality. Living in hiding from the ICE raids. Dreamers. Families torn apart. Refugees blocked. Latinos, Muslims, women, Jews, Blacks, LGBTQ+.  My country’s Commander-In-Chief actively legitimizes a process of divisiveness, which is also a process of dehumanization.

And it gets worse. Now our president has pardoned Joe Arpaio, a racist who used his position as sheriff to target the Latino population, to spit on immigrants. Almost in the same breath, our president has banned transgender troops, relegating the trans population to a lesser than full-human status. He gave a tepid (at best) response to the white supremacist fiasco in Charlottesville, betraying everyone who rejects the idea of a master race.  It’s been quite a week.

And it gets even worse, because each of these acts goes beyond the act itself. Our president is endorsing and perpetuating ideas which diametrically oppose the foundation of our country. In the newly Divided States Of America, all people are not created equal.

It’s another form of taking away their names.

I wish the election results had been different. I wish our administration didn’t define empathy and decency as a self-interested power surge. I wish so many people in my homeland weren’t hurt by their statements, their policies, their actions.  I wish the people in charge understood that gaining power by stepping on others never works for long. Eventually, they’ll fall and as they fall, they’ll drag several innocent people with them. They’ll all land hard, and some will survive while others won’t. Donald Trump’s name will be remembered, but most of the names of the innocent casualties will be forgotten, caught in a crossfire of dehumanization.

I wish for a day when nobody has to live without a name.

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Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

A 15-year-old girl, Caroline Black, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and in gratitude to the enriching diversity of my high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through her first year of training, working with a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written with respect for the human capacity to heal, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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