The chairman of the Riley County Commissioners suggested this week that the global coronavirus pandemic is not a problem locally because unlike in Italy, there are not a lot of Chinese people living in central Kansas, according to two other officials who attended the meeting Wednesday night.
Before we go any further, the scientific term for this kind of xenophobic falsehood is bunkum.
Usha Reddi, the mayor of Manhattan, Kansas, went to the meeting hoping that the commissioners would declare an emergency, which they ultimately did. But what she heard from the chairman, Republican Marvin Rodriguez, was this: “I’m paraphrasing, but he said we don’t have a problem here because Italy has a lot of Chinese people, and we don’t have that problem here.”
Reached by phone, Rodriguez told The Star Editorial Board, “I didn’t necessarily say it like that.” So how did he say it? “Italy has a problem with its health department, first. It’s health for everybody. I have a friend in the Navy, and he said in that area” of Northern Italy where that country’s first cases were reported, “there’s a garment industry and a lot of Chinese. If we were like Italy, we’d have it already.”
We do have it already. But, does he understand why it’s dangerous to Asian Americans to talk like that, and that there has been an increase in reported attacks?
“Well, they say it came out of China,” he answered, “and I’m not putting it past the Chinese government in communist China.” Meaning, to export a virus on purpose? “Normally, this kind of thing spreads slowly,” he answered, so “I put two and two together. I’ve been around a long time, girl.”
He also said that his only public policy goal in saying all of this was to try to discourage panic. “We’re hurting a lot of people in Manhattan” by overreacting, he said. “Places are being shut down for no reason at all.”