Aug. 4 2014 06:01 PM

America and her priorities

BW 8-6-14

For a few terrifying minutes last week, I worried I might actually be a Republican. Not a regular old frowny-faced Republican, but a bona-fide, swirly eyed, jowl-jiggling wing-nut—the extra-special brand of xenophobic human with a neural glitch for misspelled words. She's the kind who stands directly in the path of a bus transporting refugee children (let's just get that language right), screeching and waving signs with slogans like, "U.S. Citiens Don't Get Free Pass Y Should Ileagals" and "Save Our Children From Diseases." Indeed, save our littlest citiens.

Why would I—a supporter of caring properly for kids fleeing violence and rape and slavery—think for even a second that I belong to this tribe of hateful people, who proverbially turn their backs on the most vulnerable, but literally get in their faces to let them know how much they are loathed? One word: Ebola.

And now for a whole bunch of words: Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding from every orifice, death, no cure. Also: The World Health Organization has warned that the virus is spreading faster than efforts to control it. So, hey! Let's bring infected patients to America for treatment.

Well. Not just any patients. American patients. White American patients. The U.S. of A.: Keep out brown children and lice; bring in white grown-ups with an incurable, contagious disease. That's some evangelical math right there.

By the time you hold this issue of CityBeat in your bacteria-infested hands, two white, Christian, American patients suffering from the deadly Ebola virus will have been transported from Liberia to the United States for treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Not to be like Donald Trump or anything, but I've seen Contagion, is all I'm saying.

I'm guessing scientists are eager to test out some sciency stuff on this unknown white American patient, and that's important; the development of a vaccine would be particularly fantastic. Interestingly enough, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, says that one reason there isn't yet a vaccine is because the illness has been localized (to African nations, where we don't so much care about what happens) and "there's not a large market for it." Maybe all we need is a good American outbreak to bring dollars to shareholders about a viable medication.

That Schaffner is a darn-good PR soldier. Listening to him on the radio, one could easily confuse him with sportscaster Frank DeFord, with his conversational,  grandpa-esque manner. This tone is super-effective when trying to get the public behind a pretty un-get-behindable thing. 

"Aaaaaah," he said repeatedly during an interview with Jeremy Hobson on NPR's Here and Now. When Hobson asked about the risk to other hospital patients and citizens of Atlanta and the U.S., Schaffner said, "Aaaaaah," and then spoke about Ebola as if he were detailing the epic dunk shot of a storied baller. 

"There's absolutely no risk—none!—for the people in Atlanta. If there is a risk, it would be in the context of medical care. And the folks at the Emory Hospital have a special isolation unit, they're all very well trained, so I think the risk, even to healthcare workers is going to be exceeeeedingly low." 

So—which is it? No risk or exceedingly low risk? It can't be both.

Equally as curious, with regard to how quickly the disease has spread in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, Schaffner pointed to how officials put the treatment centers in urban areas, something "most of us would have argued against." He then added that Americans would have "tried to keep it as rural and as semi-isolated as possible." When Hobson pointed out the contradiction between rural and ninth largest metropolitan area in the United States, Schaffner replied, "Aaaaaah! But we know exactly who's infected. We've gone to an elite infectious-control institution, with highly trained personnel." 

And the Titanic was unsinkable.

I reject Schaffner and his implied American exceptionalism as valid reasoning. And I nearly ejected right out of my car seat when he claimed that he'd have no problem sitting next to an infected person on an airplane. Bitch, please. Look, I know Ebola isn't spread through the air. But I also know that bodily fluids happen and the government lies. I'm so not down with these reassurances, and, goddamnit, all that makes me a freakishly ugly wing-nut, right?

Aaaaah, but no. It does not. You know why? Because I am down with the likes of Mark Lane, the owner of Poppa's Fresh Fish Company in Logan Heights, who—through the organization Border Angels—has given shelter and food to a refugee mother and her three kids, and who is now being called a "mudshark" and threatened with death for daring to show some humanity. (Even as I inch toward vegetarianism, I'm compelled to go support his business and have a few last oysters.) I'm down with giving some 60,000-ish child refugees a safe place to sleep, complete with blankets and juice boxes and a little bit of compassion. And I am down with protecting people from Ebola by being fucking sensible and not unnecessarily opening that particular floodgate.

I think the people with the signs—who like to obstruct the pathway of transport vehicles, who stand in their blazing red-white-and-blue glory to verbally defend "our land" from foreign vermin—should get all Tiananmen Square on that airplane coming from Liberia. I personally invite the whole lot of bigots from Murrieta to Escondido to Oracle to position themselves along that tarmac in Atlanta, with their signs and their flags and stand their ground. They should walk their talk—and save our children from diseases. Or, at least, from this one.

And if the plane runs over and squishes a few of them in the process? Then I'd actually be perfectly fine with the Ebola virus coming to America.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.