Ebola, Also an Outbreak of Racism?

by David.G on October 28, 2014 - 11:13pm

Ebola, Also an Outbreak of Racism?


The article “Ebola, Race and Fear” by Anthony Zurcher in the BBC from October 21st, 2014 describes the racist backlash caused by the spread of Ebola in African countries. Essentially, Zurcher lists a couple of instances where Rwandan, Nigerian or other people originating from African countries are being discriminated against, feared of having contacted Ebola merely because of their skin color. He then states the possibility that all the discriminatory are linked by racism. He quotes other writers that talk about how, in Western countries, the paranoia regarding Ebola is actually increasing racial profiling and encouraging stereotypes of West Africa. The unfortunate reality is that Ebola is associated with black people in general, even though everyone has an equal chance of contracting Ebola. Zurcher then lists some statistics; one showing how a large portion of the American population is actually preoccupied with the threat of Ebola, and another showing that a little more than half still trust the United States health department in solving a potential outbreak. Zurcher then presents the view of another author who argued that, while Ebola is linked with racism, it is not the direct form that others have argued. In fact, the writer argued that the racism is in the form of the Western countries inability to appropriately intervene in West Africa, because they do not want to impede certain African tribal practices which lead to the spread of Ebola.


            In my opinion, the article managed to pass a very effective message while maintaining its objectivity. I do believe that outbreaks, such as Ebola, can create or reinforce discriminatory behaviors towards a certain population. The author did a really good job of presenting the different ways that certain people in Western Countries are discriminating in a racist fashion by bringing the opinions of other writers into the article. I find it distasteful how some people can be so hastily generalized to the point that their skin color is associated with a virus, which in reality has nothing to do with them at all. It just shows how quick humans isolate and quarantine people or things based on an underdeveloped, irrational fear. Another point that I agree with is one of the writer’s perspectives that the outbreak is causing a sort of “us vs them” type mentality. Basically, by associating Ebola with black skin-colored people, “they” get treated as less than a human being for they pose a “threat” to “us” and “we” must protect ourselves from “them” in return. One of the weaker points of the article is how the author, while showing multiple perspectives on the type of racism seen, Zurcher does not really provide any counter arguments or any other definite explanation for the discrimination witnessed. However, though Zurcher does mention that class is a possibility for the discrimination, he does not elaborate as much as he did with racism. Overall, I found the article to be quite solid, as it provides the reader with a good example of how over exaggerated fears can result in harmful, discriminatory behaviors.         


Zurcher, R. (2014, October 21st). Ebola, race and fear. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-29714657


I agree with many points you made in your article. I think all too often fear and ignorance lead to further enhancing discriminatory beliefs. Ebola is a good example of how ignorance and fear can further stoke the fires prejudice. However, I think there is a much bigger issue of ignorance surrounding Ebola, and that is with the virus itself.

I come from a family which has many doctors in it. Additionally, I was raised in a family that prioritized knowledge over what was popular. What I mean by that is, as a child I was encouraged to educate myself about world issues before taking any position on that issue. This has led to me as an adult often times having a very different take on world issue as my fellow peers.

In the case of Ebola, while I agree that it is now being used as a source of legitimizing racial discrimination. I think this is only possible because of people's ignorance of the virus itself. I recall when the first American doctors were flown back from Sierra Leona for treatment. The American media was quick to fuel the fear and panic in the public. What very few tried to do was explain how Ebola is contracted. Too often in America the fear and panic of the media drowns out any type of common sense and rational discussion on the topic.

Because I do understand how Ebola is transmitted, but also understand what it does once it is contracted I also understand people's fear of an epidemic. I don't think this should justify anyone's discrimination though. I think a person's country of origin should only be considered when entering another nation. Even then it should be handled in a respectful way. Not everyone arriving from a West African nation is infected with Ebola. Yet, it is a possibility as well have seen. Addressing the Ebola outbreak as a purely medical situation, which it is, should be the way the world handles it. Not by assigning a color or nationality to the issue. To do so only further hampers any effective method of treating those that are sick and in acute danger of contracting the virus.

I agree with what you said. It is very eye opening to see that people will discriminate on such a shameful level. to think that all West Africans have Ebola and should be kept away I feel is absurd. IF you look at the world today though there are plenty of racial stereotypes and commonly believed and used phrases. I saw a video on youtube posted by an African American female who spoke about the way people speak. She urged African Americans to stop belittling someone for speaking with proper diction. A phrase people use all the time is "stop talkin' white". She believed it belittled the people who say that and all African Americans. by saying that phrase it means that the person believes that only Caucasian people can speak with proper dictation. I believe this is shameful also.

I agree with what you said full heartily with the case of the media specifically targeting the black community. I feel as if the media should not have such a person representing the media. Not only does this completely disrespect the community but as a society in a whole because it tells the viewers that the man on the tele must have some proof (because hes is the embodiment of media, people will listen). This also reflects poorly on the white community because not everyone is like him.