Minnesota’s First Asian American GOP Chairwoman Defends Trump’s Use of ‘China Virus’

Jennifer Carnahan

Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, has faced criticism for defending President Donald Trump’s use of the term “China virus,” rhetoric believed by some as a factor influencing the surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

Carnahan, who is Asian American herself — adopted as an infant from South Korea — argued that the term is not racist at all, since Trump merely traces the pathogen to its country of origin.

“Our Caucus does not find any of the statements by the president to be offensive,” Carnahan said in an Aug. 25 conference call, according to KARE 11.

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“When the president refers to the coronavirus as the China virus, he is simply talking about the country it originated in and a lot of other viruses in the past have been labeled as such. So I think that people are completely misconstruing his words and it has absolutely nothing to do with racism. It’s more about origination.”

Asian Americans have become targets of discrimination since COVID-19 reached the country. As of Aug. 5, at least 2,500 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition monitoring such cases.

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have also rejected the use of similar terms.

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“Don’t attach locations or ethnicity to the disease, this is not a ‘Wuhan Virus,’ ‘Chinese Virus’ or ‘Asian Virus.’ The official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization,” the WHO stated on March 2.

Days later, when asked whether it was wrong and inappropriate to call COVID-19 the “Chinese coronavirus,” CDC Director Redfield said “yes.”

Carnahan’s remarks immediately drew some backlash. In a statement signed by 18 groups on Aug. 31, the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) in Minnesota said that it was “appalled.”

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“As organizations that represent many different Asian American communities in Minnesota, we are appalled at the Chairwoman’s endorsement of this language and disappointed that she does not find the statements to be offensive. This type of language used by the president of the United States and the Chairwoman of the Republican Party of Minnesota is deeply harmful to Asian American communities in Minnesota and furthers divisiveness when we should be working together to end this pandemic,” CAAL said.

The coalition cited a recent incident in the state that saw a young Asian couple come home to a racist note on their door.

“We’re watching you. Take the Chinese virus back to China. We don’t want you here infecting us with your diseases! Signed, your friendly neighborhood,” the note said, according to CAAL.

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Carnahan, the Minnesota party’s first Asian American chairwoman, was elected in office in April 2017. She is also the wife of Jim Hagedorn, U.S. Representative from Minnesota’s 1st congressional district.

Feature Images via Republican Party of Minnesota (left) and Jennifer Carnahan (right)

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