The Overwhelming Racism of COVID Coverage
September 15, 2020 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Western media cannot write western failure. The real story is that ‘developing’ nations have done remarkably better at fighting COVID-19 than the rich and white. The real story starts precisely where the western map ends. Here be dragons. We be dragons.
posted by toastyk (56 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bam.
posted by Mogur at 7:51 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


This is good; I wish it went into more detail about which "third-world" countries were doing best though.

I think it's time to consider if the US deserved to even be included in the list of so called "First World" or "developed" nations. Considering our pathetic healthcare system, education system and social safety net, I'm not sure we belong in that club.
posted by octothorpe at 8:00 AM on September 15 [20 favorites]


I am reading the OPs other articles - very good stuff, almost incandescent.
posted by Mogur at 8:03 AM on September 15


We can believe multiple things

1) Coverage is 100% racist as the article suggests. "Developing" countries with robust health systems have been effective at beating back covid in some ways and the disdainful racist attitude drips off these articles, and by extension the worldview of vast swathes of the "west".

2) Places - both "developing" and "western" that don't have good testing regimes and statistics don't know about the spread of covid. Places that don't keep good statistics about death and other health conditions compared to "normal" times, really don't know the extent of covid mortality and illness.

While the sin of racist triumphalism needs to be destroyed, there is a huge knowledge & data gap that pride cannot overcome.
posted by lalochezia at 8:08 AM on September 15 [24 favorites]


There has been a narrative around what Western countries have to learn from the Ebola response in DRC, Uganda, and West Africa in terms of outreach, messaging, PPE, distributing resources, setting up temporary facilities, contact tracing, etc.

I think it's the first time I've seen repeated messages about countries in Europe and North America needing technical assistance and expertise from African nations.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:12 AM on September 15 [15 favorites]


I 100% agree with the premise of this story, which is that many developing nations are doing better than the US and Europe in controlling Covid-19 and the Western media is not covering that accurately. The racism is obvious and apparent if you know to look for it and I'm glad the author points it out.

However, the author also makes a mistake when they make the blanket statement "The real story is that ‘developing’ nations have done remarkably better at fighting COVID-19 than the rich and white". It depends on the nation. Much of Central and South America is in the top of the charts for deaths per capita. Brasil gets a lot of the attention because of its horrible government and large absolute numbers but Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Equador are all doing very poorly too. Not all developing nations are the same.

Also as lalochezia points out there's a real concern in the poorest nations that they don't really even know how many Covid cases or deaths they have in real time; it will be years before we know.

None of this is a fucking contest though. The important thing is to figure out what is working in the successful countries like China or Vietnam and use those methods in the failing countries like the United States or Brasil. I wish I could read more about how the previous SARS epidemic helped prepare Asian nations for this event, it seems like an important related variable.
posted by Nelson at 8:47 AM on September 15 [29 favorites]


Great post, thanks toastyk!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:56 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


I haven't really been reading NYT coverage of the COVID epidemic. Those articles are hells of racist and very shameful. All of the coverage I've seen is about how much of a train wreck the US is and how Sweden's approach was a dismal failure. I share the author's POV that the glowing coverage of New Zealand was leaving out some critical geographical points that gave that country a huge leg up.

Re: "something in the blood" some of my Singaporean contacts on FB were wondering the same thing aloud back in March, though the angle at that point was that they were predisposed to infection rather than the other way around. COVID has driven people to distressing levels of irrational thinking.

It is also worth noting that countries are doing well right up until the point where they aren't.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:59 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


I've been tracking covid-19 responses in other countries because I am so bitter we can't even get the very basics right in the US. Here's what a number of other countries did:

Covid-19 in Africa: As the AU technical agency in charge of continental health security, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) started monitoring reports of pneumonia coming from Wuhan in early January 2020. Africa CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center for COVID-19 on 27 January 2020 after at least four Asian countries had announced cases. Weekly virtual coordination meetings with Africa CDC Regional Collaborating Centres, ministries of health and national public-health institutions were then organized, in addition to regular press briefings and weekly briefs, to ensure timely dissemination of information about the quickly evolving outbreak.
Vietnam's second outbreak had 10 deaths as of August. (Prior: How "overreaction" made Vietnam a virus success.)
Covid-19 in Thailand: Gita Sabharwal, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand, explains that this success is thanks to a combination of government action, social responsibility and community solidarity.
Covid-19 in Taiwan: The key to avoiding massive, economically ruinous lockdowns is effective testing, isolation, and contact tracing to control viral spread. Taiwan’s innovative electronic health records system made possible the country’s swift, targeted response to Covid-19. Although the system was not designed to stop a pandemic, it was nimble enough to be reoriented toward one.
Rwanda closes 2 markets after second spike: So far, the East African country has recorded 2,453 virus cases, including eight deaths and 1,648 recoveries.

posted by toastyk at 9:06 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]


For comparison, from back in March: Africa is Not the Center of The Coronavirus Epidemic and the West is Pissed. Still an interesting take today.
posted by gimonca at 9:09 AM on September 15 [11 favorites]


I think it's time to consider if the US deserved to even be included in the list of so called "First World" or "developed" nations.

Fifty years ago I think it did. I've been saying for twenty years that the US is third-world nation, though, and that's just when I got old enough to notice. Too bad about that zeroth-world military.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:18 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Great article, thanks.

Here's an interesting series of interviews about local Covid response with medical experts from around the world, published by MIT.

Places that don't keep good statistics about death and other health conditions compared to "normal" times, really don't know the extent of covid mortality and illness.

I get where you are coming from, but don't think this is super relevant and feels kind of gross to me. Just because a country doesn't know the full extent of mortality and illness doesn't mean they didn't do a good job responding to the pandemic. For many of the places that seem to have done the best job controlling spread, the real numbers could be many orders of magnitude higher than the official reports and still be way better than anything we are seeing here in the US.

For example here's an article from August 4th that claims Thailand (population 70 million) had about 13,000 excess deaths since the beginning of March (the official number of Covid-19 fatalities is 58).

New York and New Jersey (combined population 29 million) had 13,000 excess deaths in a SINGLE DAY (April 10th).

I wish I could read more about how the previous SARS epidemic helped prepare Asian nations for this event, it seems like an important related variable.

The previous SARS epidemic also helped the US prepare for the epidemic. In my undergrad 'ethics of medicine' class about 15 years ago, we had a CDC official come talk to the class. He'd been involved in designing quarantine procedures and policy for the US response to SARS 1. He described almost exactly the Covid-19 scenario (highly transmissible, long incubation, a mortality rate low enough that it wouldn't be noticed for a while) and explained that it was very likely to happen within our lifetimes. He also outlined the policies and institutions that had been developed to contain it. Trump defunded or disbanded most of these institutions and ignored the plans put in place.
posted by soy bean at 9:21 AM on September 15 [33 favorites]


While I absolutely agree that media coverage has been racist and biased, I doubt it would have made much difference for the United States in its pandemic response.

The United States doesn't have functioning federal leadership. Other countries handle public health; we have an advisory panel. Citizens rarely read news that isn't controlled by the mighty Facebook algorithm or ad impression (if it bleeds, it leads). Our education system barely acknowledges nations other than the one that we revolted against. Our decentralized law enforcement makes it impossible for a consistent response. It's a conflux of issues that have been decades in the making, not one that's going to be flipped because of some news articles.
posted by meowzilla at 9:56 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


From my perspective, “please note that the fucking New York Times is being ridiculously racist about Thailand and other countries” is useful information to this particular white American while it’s naturally old news to a huge number of others. Also, an essay isn’t a news article, it has a different function. So I can hardly fault the guy for writing the essay he wanted to write.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:00 AM on September 15 [12 favorites]


Bearing witness to doesn't have to game-theory maximize potential to "make a difference" to be valuable. The world is so deeply systemically-deliberately unjust that most bearings-witness don't make a difference. That is zero reason to not have and value them.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by Drastic at 10:10 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


The writer also posted a follow up on how he'd been racist himself and what spurred him to write the article.
posted by toastyk at 10:15 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


Re: "something in the blood" some of my Singaporean contacts on FB were wondering the same thing aloud back in March, though the angle at that point was that they were predisposed to infection rather than the other way around. COVID has driven people to distressing levels of irrational thinking.

grumpybear69, you may have some “Singaporean contacts on FB” but - speaking as someone actually in that country - no, the vast majority of us were not and are not speculating on there being “something in [our] blood” regarding susceptibility to infection. if one of your first reactions to an article that calls out racism and “magical oriental” narrative-building by western media is “well i see some asian people on FB that are calling themselves that too” and it’s just that hey covid is making “people” think irrationally (which you imply as either all people or, since this follows your reference to Singaporean people, non-western people - either way you deflect the article’s focus on western people to talk about non-western people’s supposed “irrational thinking”)...

I hope this was not what you intended to convey; hopefully there can be more care in considering how your words come across before commenting.
It’s just not very cool to namedrop poc acquaintances in an attempt to substantiate an opinion implying non-western people are orientalizing/essentializing themselves.
posted by aielen at 10:22 AM on September 15 [8 favorites]


This is literal racism. Instead of looking what Thai people did, they’re asking if it’s something in their veins. Because Thai people couldn’t possibly just be competent, it must be alchemy

There are some good points in the article, but the literal first lines of the NYT story that kicks this off:
Is it the social distancing embedded in Thai culture — the habit of greeting others with a wai, a prayer-like motion, rather than a full embrace — that has prevented the runaway transmission of the coronavirus here?
Did Thailand’s early adoption of face masks, combined with a robust health care system, blunt the virus’s impact? Was it the outdoor lifestyle of many Thais, or their relatively low rates of pre-existing conditions?
The reference to a genetic difference in the Thai, while something that I would think of as gross on the face, is also literally suggested by a Thai researcher quoted in the article:
Dr. Wiput Phoolcharoen, a public health expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok who is researching an outbreak of the coronavirus in Pattani in southern Thailand, noted that more than 90 percent of those who tested positive there were asymptomatic, much higher than normal.
“What we are studying now is the immune system,” he said.
Dr. Wiput said Thais and other people from this part of Southeast Asia were more susceptible to certain serious cases of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus, than those from other continents.
“If our immune systems against dengue are so bad, why can’t our immune system against Covid be better?” he asked.
I’ll gladly buy the forest of this article, but some of its metaphorical trees aren’t right.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:27 AM on September 15 [11 favorites]


ailen - I did mean all people, but I understand how my comment read and realize that I should not even have posted it. My sincere apologies.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:17 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


With the exception of Brazil, who's doing as badly as anywhere in the "first world." But that just puts in into sharp relief: there is one wealthy country which is doing well, and one non-wealthy country which is doing poorly.
posted by Xiphias Gladius at 11:24 AM on September 15


With the exception of Brazil, who's doing as badly as anywhere in the "first world."

hi from India, which is also doing as bad as the US. This is not a response to you specifically -- but the lesson of this essay should be that we should stop using these first/second/third developed/developing categories.
posted by Idle Curiosity at 12:23 PM on September 15 [35 favorites]


There seems to be an attitude like, "Well, sure, they have to rely on these pre-scientific acts of desperation that people were using back before modern medicine, like masks and welding people into their houses and setting up huge quarantine wards like it's bubonic plague days. Poor things, oh well. Fortunately for us, we have The Most Advanced Health Care System In The Known World."

Right before our veiled eyes 200,000 people die and the masks and isolation methods the countries we think we're superior to prove lifepreserving, and our response to this very clear lesson is to smile and ban New Zealanders and move from Phase II to Phase III of our clownplan and open bars. Letting go of an exceptionalist self image is a fate worse than death, literally.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:51 PM on September 15 [11 favorites]


I live in South Africa (caveat: I've lived here for decades, but I'm a middle-class white immigrant, so I don't pretend to be an expert on anything here outside my very privileged bubble). Early this year, before our lockdown, I was reading the news from Italy in utter despair. If Italy was such a disaster, what chance did we, a developing country with a fraction of the resources and a backlog of other issues, possibly have? I thought we were fucked, and I was terrified for my parents, my immunocompromised friends, and everyone else I knew.

We absolutely did not come out of this unscathed -- we've had serious problems with police brutality and corruption, and the impact on our economy has been severe. Things are very very bad here right now for a lot of working class people who have lost their livelihoods. But the nightmare scenario that I was terrified of in March hasn't materialised, and nobody really knows exactly why.

I'm bemused by the borderline racist and actual racist speculation in these kinds of articles, many of which can be paraphrased as "what awful property of this backwards hell-continent has, through sheer dumb luck, saved it from disaster"? It's always something awful that's suggested as an explanation. It's never something nice.

(I particularly remember the article which suggested that poor people living at close quarters are more likely to have contracted previous coronaviruses which were similar enough to offer some cross-protection, which is why we've had such a high incidence of mild and asymptomatic cases. Well, OK, but why didn't the same thing happen in Brazil or India? Surely these coronaviruses didn't spread through the entire continent, but then magically stop at the borders?)

I wonder to what extent we will ever have a full explanation. If we do, I expect it to be a combination of factors, from a genuinely effective government response (we like to complain about our government, and there are certainly many valid reasons to complain, but JFC, am I glad that we have Ramaphosa and not Trump or Johnson), to both good and bad local conditions (weather, timing, young population, previous diseases, previous vaccines, etc.).

There are so many different variables at play that it's going to take a while to untangle them. We don't even have a full understanding of the mechanism of the virus right now (although there are lots of compelling-sounding theories that purport to "explain everything"), so of course we also don't yet have a full understanding of what conditions can mitigate its effects.

One thing I absolutely agree with here is that the elephant in the room is how badly certain "developed" countries have fucked up their response. To the point of criminal negligence. Everyone living in these countries should be incandescently furious. To be clear, I'm aware that many people are, and are doing their best to turn things around -- but I find it horrifying and sad how effectively local propaganda has convinced a significant portion of the population that this is just how it is and they shouldn't feel entitled to anything better. (Yet somehow inexplicably things are not as bad in other countries -- what a mystery!)
posted by confluency at 1:12 PM on September 15 [14 favorites]


Another thing many of these countries do much better than we do is taking care of their elderly instead of institutionalizing them.
posted by straight at 2:00 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


The Guardian today has a glorious example of the Sweden thing: Sweden records its fewest daily Covid-19 cases since March
When you think of it, it is almost funny. Though obviously not when you think about the dead people or the people who still have symptoms months after their initial infection. Look at the graphs in that article, they compare Sweden, a Nordic welfare state, to Spain, France, the UK, Italy and Germany and even then, they come out badly compared to Italy and Germany. It would look worse if they compared with the Scandinavian neighbors. What if the comparison had been made with Vietnam or Mongolia? Horrible. But even in a progressive paper like the Guardian, Sweden is presented like they are on to something.
posted by mumimor at 2:13 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Thailand's success has always had a bit of an enigma to it. Vietnam was clearly a case of rapid public health response with high buy-in by the population. The strange thing about Thailand is this: The center of the pandemic, Wuhan is an international flight hub. The city which had the highest incoming air traffic from Wuhan was Bangkok. Why wasn't there an early spike in cases there? I credit the Thai for their subsequent active measures, but that early quiet period ....?
Oh, and an interesting stat on population behavior - in both Vietnam and Thailand, mask usage is > 90%. Were Thais already wearing masks at the very early stages of the pandemic?
posted by storybored at 2:38 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


It's become fashionable to diss the NYT these days, and the FPP article does a bit of selective quoting in its pillorying of the newspaper.

In the paragraph before the quote about genetics of Thais, there is also this:

"Did Thailand’s early adoption of face masks, combined with a robust health care system, blunt the virus’s impact? Was it the outdoor lifestyle of many Thais, or their relatively low rates of pre-existing conditions?"

Taken by itself, the quote about genetics looks ugly. But in context, it's not as bad. The questioning is broad and not just limited to "racial" aspects.

I do agree though that the NYT had a great story lead here and didn't dig deeper. Why didn't they report more about the Thai public health system? What were those early interventions?

Dropped ball.
posted by storybored at 2:54 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


hi from India, which is also doing as bad as the US.

Can you say more about why you say that? India's official statistics are very low; about half the cases and deaths per capita. The numbers are ramping up now so it's looking worse, but hasn't been. But I don't live there, maybe it seems much worse being there? The Economist thinks things are going bad there but I don't trust any opinion that paper expresses about India.
posted by Nelson at 3:15 PM on September 15


Managing a society's public health during a global pandemic barely requires economic solutions as much as it requires empathy. And capitalism/corporate media especially in America just can not deal with the prospect that our long-established notions of first-world and third-world might be wholly irrelevant in this context.

We generally don't do the kind of introspection and critical thinking that might lead to the conclusion that having money doesn't necessarily make you a good person who is right all the time. So we still schedule professional football games where ten thousand people gather in one location and "boo" the literal concept of unity. And the college season continues despite entire teams contracting the disease if they can still go out and play without getting paid for it. Meanwhile, those US unemployment benefits earlier this year that likely stemmed the tide of an economic downfall were practically teetering on falling ass-backwards into universal basic income, but you won't hear anybody in power describe it that way.

And the low-hanging example fruit is obviously the fact we've managed to somehow politicize the very concept of wearing a mask in order to protect other people. Nature versus nurture aside, I can only assume a big part of America's poor response is due to the fact some people (are taught to) think of their fellow Americans as enemies rather than human beings.
posted by Arson Lupine at 3:26 PM on September 15 [9 favorites]


I think it's time to consider if the US deserved to even be included in the list of so called "First World" or "developed" nations.

"First World" means aligned with the United States, so literally impossible to remove the US from that list.
posted by sideshow at 4:25 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


For everyone under 40:

Aligned with the US: First World
Aligned with the Soviet Union: Second World
Aligned with neither the US nor the USSR: Third World
posted by sideshow at 4:28 PM on September 15 [8 favorites]


Can you say more about why you say that? India's official statistics are very low; about half the cases and deaths per capita. The numbers are ramping up now so it's looking worse, but hasn't been. But I don't live there, maybe it seems much worse being there? The Economist thinks things are going bad there but I don't trust any opinion that paper expresses about India.

The majority of covid deaths are in older people, and India's population is much younger than the US or similar affluent Western countries. Per the Hindustan Times a couple of months ago, 85% of Indian deaths were in the 45 plus age bracket, which is 25% of the population. In the US, about 42% of the population is 45 plus. About half of the deaths in India are in people aged 60+; 22.7% of Americans and 8.6% of Indians are in this age group.

Once you adjust for age, India is doing roughly as bad per capita as the US, and the US is doing very badly indeed.
posted by Superilla at 4:28 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


I'm not under 40 and first/third world has been a proxy for economic development for at least as long as I've been alive.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:29 PM on September 15 [10 favorites]


I should probably cop to the fact that, shamefully, back in February, I saw the news about Italy and my first thought was "Oh no, Italy, get your shit together." After all, as excellent as the Italian medical system usually is, the country is renowned for being a bureaucratic morass, and maybe that was the problem. Or the chaotic politics. Or the arrogance and machismo of doctors?

You know, certainly not the sort of thing that would happen here, where I live, in NYC.

It was a little like when, as a kid, I'd hear adults cluck their tongues as they talked about how devalued the Lira was or how Italian tap water isn't good to drink and how sad that was for our many and multiple Italian cousins. I guess that cultural imperialism got passed down to me along with everything else. I definitely need to do better.

(All of the cousins are fine so far, though a few got stranded in the Alps for weeks because they were on vacation when COVID hit and couldn't get home.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:11 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


The same writer's To The World, Trump Has Been An Improvement lands a punch.
posted by bertran at 6:34 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


@confluency: South Africa, like Canada, has a per-capita mortality rate more than 30 times as high as South Korea.
posted by joeyh at 6:42 PM on September 15


Evidence Shows TB Vaccine May Help Versus COVID-19
Developing countries have lower-than-expected COVID-19 death rates, and a TB vaccine given in countries with high rates of tuberculosis might play a significant role in reducing COVID-19 death rates, according to authors of a new study.
Not sure if this is still panning out.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:09 PM on September 15


As part of my pandemic sanity survival strategy, I started watching news in French. A side effect has been that I now get a lot of news about Africa, including Why is Rwanda the only Sub-Saharan African country considered Covid-19 ‘safe’ by EU? - France 24 (the video is narrated in English; there are some interviews in French with English subtitles; from July).

As fraught as relations between France and Francophone countries in Africa might appear, I have never seen coverage of Africa this sensible.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:49 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


Don Pepino's comment:
Letting go of an exceptionalist self image is a fate worse than death, literally.
Coming from the point of view of being in the UK? Absolutely this. It's looking increasingly likely that the country is going to crash out of the international trade system, not just the EU, in less than four months time, with an ongoing pandemic. All the rhetoric from the people who don't think this is going to lead to mass deaths is based on exceptionalism.

You could potentially argue that the better pandemic responses that there have been (though still not top notch) in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are because they don't have the same sense of exceptionalism as England.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:57 PM on September 15 [4 favorites]


Can you say more about why you say that? India's official statistics are very low; about half the cases and deaths per capita.

so I'm just a guy living in Bangalore with no expertise on this but I feel India is doing very badly because the number of cases are still rising but more importantly we just opened everything up with no real plan!

Only about half the people wear masks correctly. Every kind of business has opened back up. Traffic is back to normal. Travel within the country has very few restrictions. At this point it seems like the only outcome is for the virus to burn through the population. :|
posted by Idle Curiosity at 12:32 AM on September 16 [4 favorites]


@joeyh I'm not suggesting that we're anywhere near South Korea. Our deaths per capita are, however, considerably lower than in Italy, the UK or the US according to all the data I've found. (I'm not getting into the extent to which deaths per capita are a good proxy for overall per-country severity. I agree that this is one of several useful statistics.) And we now appear to be past the peak and heading into summer. "Like Canada" is not fantastic, but it's also not currently the worst outcome.
posted by confluency at 1:23 AM on September 16


Can you say more about why you say that? India's official statistics are very low

What scares me and my Indian colleagues is that India has never, through any of this so far, showed a sustained decrease in case count (or R_e < 1.0 if you want to get epidemiological). Even during the initial lockdown when we were talking about night shelters and food for people stranded. So what is going to stop the continued exponential growth?
posted by away for regrooving at 1:41 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]


For everyone under 40:

Aligned with the US: First World
Aligned with the Soviet Union: Second World
Aligned with neither the US nor the USSR: Third World


Indeed.

However, even if you use the looser understanding of 'First' vs 'Third World' as meaning 'rich country' vs 'poor country' or 'Global North' vs 'Global South' then I remind readers that the United States remains the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. Many Americans may not see all the benefits of that wealth, the inequality is certainly eyewatering, and as Adam Tooze has written, the influence of the US has declined in recent years (though US power has not seen as dramatic a decline). But, simply by being its citizens Americans have incredible power, and a societal wealth that is perhaps best reflected in their per capita carbon emissions. The situations of the US and actual 'Third World' countries are so entirely different that there is a reason the 'world' metaphor survives. Similarly, the suggestion that the United States is not a 'developed country' is risible.

An alternative understanding implicit in some comments that United States is not deserving of being a 'First World' country is that 'Third World' = 'shithole' which, well, I don't think I need to point out on this forum why this might be problematic; others in this thread have already explained why. I will just add that I think those of us from the Global South would be grateful if our countries were not used as a measure of awfulness, at least without understanding or nuance.

Apologies for going on at some length - this is a loose language I sometimes see on Metafilter, and while I know it's not intended as offensive, I do think it's a bit parochial, and wanted to unpack it a little.
posted by tavegyl at 2:33 AM on September 16 [11 favorites]


Similarly, the suggestion that the United States is not a 'developed country' is risible.

Why?

But, simply by being its citizens Americans have incredible power, and a societal wealth that is perhaps best reflected in their per capita carbon emissions.

You don't think that significant (and growing) inequality you briefly alluded to is relevant to either of these points?

Poverty in the US doesn't get reported on very well - there is that racist/classist (and yeah, very problematic) narrative of other countries being terrible to live in while the US is great on all counts, which is the American Exceptionalism that everyone is talking about. But poverty is most definitely there, is also often tied up with a lot of racism, and affects the level of political power that people have within the US. Ignoring the very real and consequential wealth and power difference between countries' governments/ruling elites is neither helpful nor accurate, agreed. Same for folks in the US who accurately sense that they have lost some of their share of that power along with some economic stability, but who do still have some influence and globally disproportionate carbon emissions. But the same also holds for ignoring the inequality within each country.
posted by eviemath at 4:04 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]


Only about half the people wear masks correctly.

The people who wear them over their mouths leaving their noses exposed are baffling to me. Like, what the fuck do you think you're doing?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:50 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]


>Similarly, the suggestion that the United States is not a 'developed country' is risible.

>>Why?


Because words mean things? Maybe you wish living in this particular developed country didn’t suck so much but if you can look out your window and see pavement and power lines and sewer grates then, yes, your country is literally developed, because ”developed country” means “country with what the West has decided is adequate infrastructure for a country to have,” not “country that is good and just and fair.”
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:01 AM on September 16 [7 favorites]


The thing is that there are relatively large areas in the US where you look out of the window and see gravel tracks and no services and even a lot of Americans don't know this, or they romanticize it. And on the other hand, the infrastructure in some (not all) developing countries is almost comparable to the US situation. In South Africa (technically a first or second world country, but not really), there are gravel roads as you might expect, but the hospitals have been world class for generations, just like in the US. You can 't really compare, there are so many factors, but I always thought that was the one thing Trump, as a property developer, got right: you can now go to some former third world country and get the same weird contrasts and the US is no longer ahead. The thing is he was never able to deliver on changing that fact.
When I was a kid, the US really was bigger and better. We didn't have universal healthcare either, or the level of education and research of the US. But in fifty years, things have changed. The US still has the best research and education, for the privileged, but to a large extent that leadership is because people in other countries with access to free education can go to the US and profit. Heck, even at the lowest levels of income, immigrants are who make America great.
posted by mumimor at 7:36 AM on September 16 [5 favorites]


Because words mean things?

Well, yes. The question was, implicitly, what meaning was tavegyl using for the word "developed".

For example, "developed" is often implicitly paired with "technologically advanced". Technology is not just electronics and factories, though.

(i) Technology is also the processes we use to grow food, and how we apply science in those processes. In recent history, many white people in Western countries have thought of highly mechanized agricultural techniques as being "higher tech". But arguably sustainable agricultural practices are even more advanced (despite, in some cases, relying on agricultural knowledge/technology from previous centuries and non-Western or North American indigenous cultures). Is a country more "developed" if it has a more centralized agricultural production system, or if it has a more sustainable agricultural production system?

(ii) Technology is also the processes we use to produce clothing. In recent history, many white people in Western countries have thought of more mechanized, or non-mechanized but more assembly line format, fast fashion production as being "higher tech". But unlike individually made, bespoke clothing production, this doesn't produce clothing that fits many of our bodies very well or comfortably. Is a country more "developed" if it has a more centralized and standardized clothing production system, or if everyone has clothes that fit well even though those may be primarily made by hand at home?

(iii) Technology, to a certain extent, but also "development" is also about our social systems and practices. Representative democracy is a political technology, for example. Is a country more "developed" if it has a highly centralized political power structure that has lots of power on the world stage but that the majority of its citizens have little to no voice in, or if power is distributed more fairly and equitably among citizens?

if you can look out your window and see pavement and power lines and sewer grates then, yes, your country is literally developed

Is it? Or is a country more "developed" if it has better public transportation infrastructure, local power production that is more resilient to storms and climate change, a better cell phone system that is accessible/affordable for everyone (I read that almost every country in Africa is significantly more advanced in that respect than most areas of Canada, where I live, for example), etc.?

because ”developed country” means “country with what the West has decided is adequate infrastructure for a country to have,”

This seems to be exactly the point of view that tavegyl was arguing against?

I put a question mark there, because I do not, in fact, know this for certain, so for me it is a question. Much like my question about why they considered it risible to suggest that the US in not a developed country. Highly debatable, sure, but ludicrous enough to be described as "risible"? I did not understand why they thought this, and so was asking for clarification.
posted by eviemath at 10:54 AM on September 16 [4 favorites]


Letting go of an exceptionalist self image is a fate worse than death, literally.

Similarly, the suggestion that the United States is not a 'developed country' is risible.


The United States is a weird outlier in many ways from the rest of the G7 and doesn't share many commonalities with them. It is rich and has development, but that wealth and development is so uneven due to systemic racism, income inequality, and lack of federal standards.
posted by benzenedream at 1:38 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


The US is a powerful and filthy rich country that's armed to and beyond the teeth, but its residents are, for the most part, not as powerful, rich, or exceptional as many of us would like to think we are. Which is not to mention that a whole lot of folks living here are not getting the US's full first-in-class, white-glove, indoor-housing-hooked-up-to-a-functioning-sewer-system-and-electrical-grid experience.

The US is, in short, a land of contrasts.

Mostly, I think it's interesting that a conversation about the COVID response in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world has quickly turned into a conversation about the US, instead.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:10 PM on September 16 [10 favorites]


The strange thing about Thailand is this: The center of the pandemic, Wuhan is an international flight hub. The city which had the highest incoming air traffic from Wuhan was Bangkok. Why wasn't there an early spike in cases there? I credit the Thai for their subsequent active measures, but that early quiet period ....?

I've been in Bali throughout the pandemic, and the same thing happened here. Until right up to July 30, we in Bali assumed we had largely "dodged the bullet" of COVID. There were tens of thousands of arrivals or more from Wuhan to Indonesia, most to Bali, yet cases on the island remained freakishly low, even as Indonesia as a whole bungled its early response pretty badly (presidential-level denials, downplaying, and coverup; uncoordinated national strategy; PPE & facilities shortage; testing shortage; pick your poison) and Java saw exactly the huge outbreak you'd expect. The country as a whole finally started getting its act together vis-a-vis lockdowns and social distancing, case numbers started declining, but things in Bali went on much as they had pre-COVID, minus the tourists. There were some half-hearted curfews, but no lockdowns, and the number of active cases stayed in the low to mid hundreds. Bali was touted nationally as a successful case of how to control the virus with moderate measures and lifestyle. Very Serious Medical People started saying "maybe it's something in the blood" in the local news. Bali's governor was advocating some sort of "arak steam bath" as a COVID treatment (thankfully experts shut him down pretty quickly on that).

And then they were like "nice we got this now let's get that sweet tourist money again" and they opened back up to domestic tourists on July 30 and the active caseload doubled in August and now hospitals are running out of isolation wards and doctors and nurses are getting infected at alarming rates again. So we know it's definitely not something in the blood or a distinctive lifestyle, and while there has been constant suspicion of under-testing, even if that's true, there's enough testing to catch the spike. Visitors from virus-heavy regions lead to increased caseload <- sound logic that definitely applies here.

So I think there is definitely a question mark hanging over the early-2020 Bangkok-Wuhan & Bali-Wuhan corridors. The case spike in Bali in early September should have happened in March. We should have been one of the earliest hotspots, but nothing of the sort happened, and virus control measures here were (and still are!) pretty lax. I hope epidemiologists figure it out, because I'm really curious.

With that said, and more on topic with this post, the idea of Bali being a refuge from the virus took hold early among the "stayers", the tourists & expats who decided to ride it out here. Consequently, they partied like it was the end of the world, and they continue to do so. Virus denialism on Facebook is rampant. White people refusing to wear masks is now a nationwide meme. Batu Belig Beach might as well be Spring Break Florida. I would kill to have ONE f**kin conversation that doesn't include "masks don't work" or "it's as bad as the flu, why don't we do lockdown for the flu" as a theme (if Bali's expats were a US state, they would be So Republican I swear to god). I'm renting a house and I've had to kick out every. single. roommate. because they won't stop clubbing and bringing strangers home. Most won't wear masks when we go to the grocery store unless I nag, and then they only do so reluctantly, to keep the peace. And these are people who will happily take off their shoes indoors to "respect local customs"! You literally just put on mosquito repellent to stop yourself from getting dengue fever! I give up! No more roommates! This is why we can't have nice things!

I was promised Tropical Yoga Paradise and I got Neocolonial Permanent Jacksonville Frat Party Pandemic Hell. Get off my lawn, the West.
posted by saysthis at 5:20 PM on September 16 [15 favorites]


I was promised Tropical Yoga Paradise and I got Neocolonial Permanent Jacksonville Frat Party Pandemic Hell.

That's because everyone else was promised the same thing and it's a well known natural law that if you take anything good and just keep adding people it eventually sucks.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:15 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


I think it's interesting that a conversation about the COVID response in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world has quickly turned into a conversation about the US, instead.

TFA is about the US. It is titled:

The Overwhelming Racism Of COVID Coverage
Western media cannot write western failure


We are talking about the article, and the article is about the inability of western media to write western failure. True, it is also about the inability of western media to write nonwestern success, and the nonwestern success bit is the more interesting part, from a "hey, wow, maybe the species can survive this" POV, but it's still pretty unsurprising that the thread about the article has featured conversation about the spectacularly racist "see-no-evil" western media response to (actually largely failed whatever the western reports say) efforts to control COVID in the US and Europe compared to (actually largely successful whatever the western reports say) efforts to control COVID in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:02 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


>I was promised Tropical Yoga Paradise and I got Neocolonial Permanent Jacksonville Frat Party Pandemic Hell.

>>That's because everyone else was promised the same thing and it's a well known natural law that if you take anything good and just keep adding people it eventually sucks.


who is this "everyone else" referring to - the expat/white/non-Indonesian people in Bali, or the actual citizens there that are serving/facilitating the yoga (and other tourist activities)? who from the island is being included (or not included) in this kind of framing/language?
posted by aielen at 12:05 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


I'd propose adding "dissolving country" to "developed country" and "developing country". Developing implies on the rising slope. Developed is a plateau. America is exceptional in that it is the first "modern" country to go through the lifecycle and find itself on the back slope.
posted by karst at 12:06 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]


Africa has defied the covid-19 nightmare scenarios. We shouldn’t be surprised. (WashPo)
Instead, the media has largely ignored the policy successes out of Africa. In doing so, Western media is reinforcing colonial narratives of Black inferiority and the inability of Black nations to govern themselves at all, much less govern better than resource-rich White nations.
posted by Nelson at 7:24 AM on September 25 [2 favorites]


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