Death and taxes used to be the only two certainties in life—but no matter how much progress it feels like we’re making sometimes, the sad fact is you can probably slide racism into that list, too. Are we in a moment of uprising that feels like it has the potential to create real, systemic change? Yes. Do people and organizations still show their ass on a daily basis? Oh, most definitely. And to keep tabs on all that ass-showing, we’re pleased to present our semi-regular racism surveillance machine. Stay woke, and keep your head on a swivel out there.
By now, we know monkeypox is a growing crisis. It's spreading like a bad meme, particularly in gay communities in cities such as New York where major vaccination efforts are underway, but not quickly enough, it seems.
On top of a major health crisis that feels way too familiar, there's another issue to deal with: The name monkeypox is super problematically racist in origin. And it's not even accurate.
On NPR's Goats and Soda health blog, Aspen Institute health strategy consultant Ifeanyi Nsofor called out the media in early June, before the disease was widespread, for running photos of Nigerians with monkeypox—as if that's the only place the disease exists. In the piece, Nsofor says diseases such as monkeypox and ebola are often portrayed as being diseases with origins in places like Nigeria. "The message then and now," he writes, "blame Africa for monkeypox." It's giving echoes of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which had similar vibes.
As the disease has gotten much more attention in the two months since that blog post, NPR followed up its own guest column with a deeper dive by Bill Chappell, who expands the argument, reporting that the World Health Organization agrees with scientists who say the name is stigmatizing toward Black people, Africa, and the LGBTQ community. Not only is there the long association of the word "monkey" in reference to Black people, the piece points out, but it's not even accurate. People aren't out here getting the disease from actual monkeys.
The story says the WHO is considering changing the name, but so far has no good alternate-name proposals on the table. The process of renaming could take a year or two, at least, by which time we might all have monkeypox, or whatever it's called by then.
We've got a suggestion. Call it, "Monkeypox But Not Monkey In A Racist Way And Monkeys Aren't Really Involved, Get Your Shot, Really Don't Even Think About The Monkey Part, It's Basically Mild Smallpox, Forget We Said 'Monkey.'"
Is it wordy? Sure. But much clearer. And a lot less racist!