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Anti-Asian talk harmful

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted is a savvy and reasonable man who aims for higher office. So why is Husted so dead set against apologizing for his ill-considered March 26 tweet: “So it appears it was the Wuhan Virus after all?”

Husted says the words were aimed at the Chinese government’s failure to come clean on the origins of COVID-19, and were not aimed at those of Chinese or Asian descent. He added in lengthy public comments Thursday that no harm was meant, that he has many Asian American friends and that the word Wuhan is “inseparable” from the back story of the pandemic.

Wrong response.

Husted knows that using weaponized expressions like “China virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “Kung flu” is wrong. That it is dangerous. That it is something for which he should apologize.

Such prejudice is one reason the World Health Organization in 2015 came up with new “best practices” on disease naming that determined diseases would no longer be named for cities, countries, people, cultural practices or anything else that could inspire fear or bias.

Yet now, thanks to Husted’s words, Ohioans of Asian ancestry today feel more threatened, more vulnerable to attack — because the No. 2 official in Ohio government has added his voice to weaponized anti-Asian talk. By failing to apologize and disavow those words, Husted gives sustenance and support to those who would use such official validation of hate-filled expressions to justify their own attacks and bias.

Admittedly, the tweet was in response to a news story reporting that a former top U.S. health official believed — without proof — that the COVID-19 virus “escaped” from a virology lab in Wuhan, and had not arisen from animal-to-human transmission, as a recent World Health Organization report concluded was “most likely.”

Yes, China’s failure to share its raw data on the first 174 cases it detected is wrong and adds to suspicions and uncertainty about the virus’s origins. The Chinese government’s actions deserve attention, and condemnation.

But they’re no reason to propel ethnic hate. Words like “Wuhan Virus” not only violate accepted practice on how to refer to such diseases, they also have caused demonstrable harm.

The forum “Stop AAPI Hate” (the acronym refers to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), counted 3,795 reported anti-AAPI incidents between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021 — most of them racial slurs, harassment and shunning, but 11 percent of them physical attacks.

People in positions of power like Husted carry particular responsibility to moderate prejudice, not to become complicit in it.

Husted surely understands all this. He should now make clear that he, along with the rest of Ohio’s leadership, will not tolerate anti-Asian hate crimes and messaging.

* Editorial from the Cleveland Plain Dealer

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