Outbreak of Ebola Fear: Prejudice in the USA

It angers me when I read about people advocating for higher restrictions in airports for those coming from West Africa. It particularly angers me when they say no one should be allowed in the U.S. because we have already had four cases and that is just. so. horrible. There are over 4,000 people dead in West Africa as of now, and our death count in the US is one. Just one. We have no right to be afraid. There are people dying in hundreds, entire towns wiped out because there is no room in the small hospitals to separate the sick from the healthy. So, when Americans work themselves into a panic about the epidemic spreading to the U.S., I am exasperated. Not only have there only been four cases, but even if the disease did spread to bigger numbers it wouldn’t wipe out towns and cities. We have enough hospitals to quarantine the infected. We have enough advanced medical technology to lessen the effects, at least for a short time. The disease would not devastate the U.S. as it has West Africa. By lobbying for restricting all access between Africa and US, we are restricting all possible aid that could save thousands of human lives. No longer will doctors and nurses be able to travel to Africa to build hospitals, train medical workers and aid those who are dying. We are turning our heads up at those countries, proclaiming that American lives are much more important than the lives of West Africans. They warrant more protection.

I am aware that this opinion has been stated multiple times, especially here at Macalester, but it is simply becoming more and more important to acknowledge and address. Ever since the nurse has been moved to Maryland, the fear has become undeniable and uncontrollable. Incidentally, I am from Maryland and got a shock yesterday when I saw that my sister had tweeted that she didn’t want the nurse moved about 20 minutes from our home. My sister goes to school in North Carolina. My sister doesn’t understand the fact that she will not be affected by the nurse’s move, but that the nurse may have a better chance at life because of the move.

Then, on the front page of the New York Times on Friday, the 17th, I saw the picture of the man protesting flights into America. This is another form of racism. Another reason to target Muslims. Another reason for white Americans to fear brown Americans. Another reason to divide ourselves by country, rather than having sympathy for fellow humans in pain. Under that picture of the man protesting there was an article about a U.S. doctor volunteering in Liberia. He states that all the patients want is support and comfort. He mentions his admiration of a doctor who had contracted the illness by taking care of his patients. We need this in the U.S. We need not fear the nurse, but admire her for risking her life in doing her job.

This racism and prejudice has recently extended to another nurse returning from volunteering in Sierra Leone who was immediately quarantined when she arrived back at Newark Airport. This quarantine was a result of the doctor who returned from Guinea with ebola. Both incidents are encouraging the irrational behavior of Americans which is taking place right now.

These actions help to create a correlation between Africa and death and danger in people’s minds. This will lead to racism against people of color as they begin to pose potential threats in people’s minds as carriers of the disease. It will be much like the homophobia that resulted when AIDS was called GRIDS and believed to be a direct result of homosexual behavior. Ebola fear and unwarranted quarantines will give people reasons for not wanting to help Africans or allow refuge to Africans, even if they are not from the regions with rampant ebola.

Racism in America will now have a “reason” and “rationale” behind it. No matter how many cases or returnees there are, we cannot let ebola halt our progress in ending racism and prejudice. The fear cannot return us to the days of segregation as the unnecessary quarantines have started to hint at. We must be aware of the facts and dangers which are realistically posed and support anyone who volunteers to be of aid in Western Africa.