The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had a lot of attention since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and many of its information is being consistently used as a way to discredit some of the clearly absurd claims President Trump is making.
But now the CDC has made a serious error in judgement, and has been accused of stoking some of the most troubling aspects of the Trump narrative: racism against people of Asian descent.
The organisation this week released the cover for its May edition, which focuses on infectious diseases, posting the image on Instagram. The post has since been deleted but the image is still available on the website.
The image is an 18th century Qing military rank badge, which “depicts a muscular leopard standing on a small piece of light brown, green-tinged land amidst flowering plants and fruit trees. The surrounding sky is filled with swooping bats and tendrils of clouds”.
People on Twitter were quick to post screenshots of the images, expressing the problematic nature of using Asian imagery to illustrate the concept of infectious diseases when we're seeing a rise in anti-Asian hate crime, not helped by Trump repeatedly referring to Covid-19 (which has affected and killed more people in the US than any other country in the world) as the "Chinese virus" and "Wuhan virus".
@jadeitecabbage @jeannette_ng Awesomely BAD design
Who let the graphic design intern do the cover?
Major Cultural… https://t.co/P4vflqmxH3
Another person to call it out was Xiaoyu Weng, a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. According to the Daily Dot she posted a screenshot to her Instagram story, saying the image is:
An ignorant, foundationless attack on Chinese cultural heritage.
She told the Daily Dot:
Many of these symbols were used and have been used in various contexts in Asian culture and have rich meaning and knowledge behind them, the bat is a representative. You can see such symbols featured in historical art objects in museums like the Met, for example. By stripping free of the complexity, this association with Covid-19 is a baseless and very irresponsible way to disseminate fake knowledge.
The Instagram post was reportedly flooded with negative comments along the same lines. After it was taken down, it was replaced by an image encouraging people to order take-out, which seems like a strange point to make – but even more bafflingly was illustrated with an image of what appeared to be Asian dishes. Facepalm.
People in the comments had a lot of thoughts. One said:
After you were forced to delete your post yesterday, did anyone think about insinuation of using a picture of Asian takeout food in your post about food safety? People of Asian descent have been targets of racist attacks due to the stigma and misinformation around the coronavirus. Whether you meant to or not, people may interpret your post as suggesting Asian food is more likely to be harbor the virus than other cuisines.
Why did you use a picture of Chinese takeout food to convey this message? Did you think we wouldn’t notice it, especially after your racist post yesterday connecting an ancient Chinese art piece with coronavirus? STOP TARGETING ASIAN AMERICANS. PERIOD.
A third claimed:
Very insensitive or even insidious to use a picture of Asian food to talk abut food safety, after being called out for yesterday’s racist post linking traditional Chinese emblems to diseases. The virus causing covid-19 does not discriminate on race. The choice of graphical and verbal materials of these recent posts sends out false messages that do not help with the current situation. Please reconsider and make sure it never happens again.