When the Obama haters met the Ebola hysterics, they fell in love.
Faster than you could say President Obola — the latest slur against the president — right-wing bloggers, talk-show hosts and politicians pushed the racial panic buttons.
In Dallas, young children of African immigrants have been called “Ebola kids.” And across the country, recent African immigrants, many of them American citizens, report fear on the part of their co-workers, neighbors and even friends that they are somehow secretly infected.
Fox News has been the most egregious peddler of racialized nonsense. “The Five” co-host Andrea Tantaros opined that Africans will come to the United States and then “seek treatment from a witch doctor.” Fox News medical “expert” psychiatrist Keith Ablow argued that Obama supports the spread of Ebola because his sympathies and “his affiliations” are with Africa.
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Other conservative media have piled on, from right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage to convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza and unrepentant birther Donald Trump. They have insulted the victims of Ebola and mocked the administration’s response with barely disguised racial venom.
Not far behind in their racial dog-whistling are Republican officials and candidates, who are hopeful that fear will drive people into their arms.
Given the general lack of knowledge and stereotypes regarding Africa, nearly 40 percent of the American public believes that the United States faces a potential Ebola epidemic, and Republicans are stoking those fears for political gain.
Their call to stop all flights from and to West African countries severely affected by Ebola — or all flights from and to anywhere in Africa — is a very short hop away from the demand to stop all Africans from entering the country.
The obvious fact that anyone can get around the flight ban by traveling to a third or fourth country, or that white Americans or non-Africans might actually carry the infection seems beside the point.
It is difficult to imagine a similar panic over the possibility that a white Canadian might have Ebola and cross into the United States.
What’s more, some African countries have demonstrated amazing efficiency in combating the Ebola outbreak. Senegal and Nigeria have been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization. Although neither nation has what could remotely be called a top-notch public health system, both responded vigorously to stop the spread after a few cases were discovered.
Caving in to political pressure, Obama designated Washington insider Ron Klain to be the nation’s “Ebola czar” responsible for coordinating the administration’s response to the disease.
One of his first actions should be to debunk the myths, rumors and racial hysteria that are contagious right now.
Clarence Lusane is a professor of political science and international relations at American University.
©2014 Clarence Lusane