African Boys Attacked And Called ‘Ebola’ Because Racism Will Keep Us Safe

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boys attacked at school and called ebolaKids are the worst. Anyone who has been a kid, and that’s all of us, knows that. But I’m going to go ahead and blame our country’s paranoia over Ebola and our racism over everything for an attack on two Senegalese boys who recently returned to school in New York after visiting Africa.

Brothers Papi and Mamadou Drame, ages 11 and 13, were allegedly targeted at I.S. 318 in Queens last Friday. Some reports say that the boys were beaten up and badly injured, while others claim they were pushed and shoved, but no one denies that multiple students targeted the boys and called them “Ebola.” The boys’ father, Ousmane Drame, told the Bronx’s News 12 that one of his sons told him, “These people call me Ebola. They don’t even want to know my name.”

Congratulations, America. We’ve managed to stigmatize an entire group of people without worrying about things like “facts.” For example, the fact that the World Health Organization declared Senegal free of Ebola on October 17th. All these boys had to be were black Africans for their peers to accuse them of being diseased.

And where did these other sixth and eighth graders get their ideas? Probably from the same people who blame Africa as a whole for the virus. From people who believe it’s easier to blame a group of people than to target an illness. I’m not saying it’s not a great concern and something to be alert for, but I also don’t believe that we need to ban all travelers from West Africa, as Fox News suggests. A poll done by CNN also found that “…three out of ten poll respondents would like any non-citizens traveling from West Africa to be prevented from entering, even in the absence of any symptoms.”

American nurses who were dealing directly with Ebola patients are allowed to monitor their symptoms at home, but we are going to stop half of an entire continent — which includes countries that have zero cases of Ebola — from entering the United States? I think that Congressman Jose Serrano, who represents the part of the Bronx the two boys are from, has it right when he says:

“We cannot allow the Ebola epidemic to stigmatize a single population…Ebola is not a West African problem, or even an African problem, it is a global health concern. Instead of feeding into the fear and discriminating against others, we need to come together in solidarity as we grapple with this terrible disease.”

And boom goes the dynamite.

We’re great at spreading fear in this country. If spreading fear were an Olympic event, the United States would have a dynasty of gold medal after gold medal. But when we spread this kind of fear we use sweeping generalizations about different races, countries, and people. We want to raise our kids to use some critical thinking skills, right? To not take things at face value but to probe deeper. And more than anything, I would hope that we would not want our kids to apply a label to an entire group out of ignorance and fear.

So the next time someone calls an African kid “Ebola,” I have some suggestions for what he or she can yell back, like “morbid obesity!” “Gender wage gap!” “Over-incarceration!” “Worst infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation!” You might have to practice a few times to get that last one.