Over the course of this pandemic, there have been many conspiracy theories floating around among American right-wing organizations that China engineered the coronavirus. These theories, which are untrue, show that even a situation as dire as a pandemic cannot kill the ignorance and bigotry of white America.
But the most ironic thing about conspiracy theories like these is that while there is no definitive evidence that the Chinese government carried out scientific viral experiments on its population, there are written confessions that the United States has.
In 1977, the United States army admitted to having administered 239 germ warfare tests in open air between 1949 to 1969 to determine how to wage biological warfare and defend against it.
This sounds like an insanely stupid conspiracy theory, but the army literally admitted in a two-volume report that they released lethal germs in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Key West and Panama City. Not only did they infect American citizens in public places like bus terminals and airports, but they also sprayed germs in multiple army bases.
In 1944, the government infected over 500 prisoners at the Stateville Penitentiary in Illinois with malaria as part of an experiment to find an effective treatment for the disease. The list goes on.
The government’s most egregious medical experiments have often targeted communities of color. From 1932 to 1972, the government conducted a study analyzing the effects of untreated syphilis on Black men in the rural South without informing participants that they had the disease or what the study was for. The participants thought they were getting free medical care. In fact, they never received any medical treatment, even after penicillin arose as an effective treatment for syphilis in 1947.
In the first half of the twentieth century, American eugenics laws enabled the government to sterilize anyone they deemed to be “unfit to reproduce,” according to the Smithsonian. Over 60,000 people, many of which were Black, Latino and Asian, were sterilized by the government.
The United States has a horrific history of using human beings — particularly from communities of color and incarcerated individuals — as lab rats. And as of 2020, it continues to do so. On April 17, President Donald Trump backed the administering of an unproven anti-malarial drug in Mumbai to see if the drug would work against COVID-19. The drug, according to Bloomberg News, has a “patchy efficacy record” and could potentially cause more harm than good.
This is the second incident in the last month of Western authorities advocating for the testing of possible COVID-19 treatments in previously imperialized countries. Around the beginning of April, French doctors suggested on live television that the BCG tuberculosis vaccine should first be tested in Africa to see if it could be effective against COVID-19.
This follows a long and painful history of France carrying out unethical medical experiments on people from its colonies in Central Africa.
The claim that COVID-19 was created in a research lab in China is racist. Not only because it plays on xenophobic fears about China, but also because it ignores the long and present history this country has of utilizing science and medicine to terrorize its own people.
It puts the blame on a foreign nation rather seriously analyzing what systemic factors contributed to the spread of the virus, and how the United States’ horrific medical legacy contributes to its present.
It’s one that continually puts the needs of white bodies over those of people of color — that endangers the health of communities of color with unethical and dangerous experiments to test treatments meant to benefit white people. Why should the vaccine first be tested in Africa? Why should that questionable malaria drug first be tested in Mumbai?
We have to ask — what exactly about those two places makes the testing of a potentially dangerous drug allowable? There is a value judgment being made here. Certain lives have been deemed more valuable than others.
Black and brown communities have been shown to be more likely to die from COVID-19, according to a Washington Post analysis. Black and brown communities were the subject of unethical medical experiments by the U.S. government in the past. They continue to receive inadequate medical care in comparison to their white counterparts due to implicit bias from providers, economic disparities due to the cost of healthcare and lack of access to hospitals.
There’s a pattern at play here, a structure that systematically disregards, and in some cases, actively destroys the health of communities of color. If anyone caused the pandemic in the U.S., it’s the governments’ inability to take care of its own people.
In February, I wrote an article about how people were using COVID-19 as an excuse to be racist against Asian Americans. Back then, I downplayed the severity of the virus, because I didn’t know it would get this bad. But my claim still stands — people are using this virus as an excuse to propagate their racist and harmful misinformation to no end. Western nations are using this disease to treat people of imperialized nations as lab rats. The cycle continues.
There is no huge government conspiracy behind the origin of this virus. But there is a government conspiracy behind the misinformation that led people to think that. This misinformation, which contributes to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the faults of America’s healthcare system, could be as harmful as the virus itself.