Black Voices

Is Racism Playing A Role In The Panic Over Ebola?

As Americans succumb to Ebola panic, their response seems to have taken an ugly turn, particularly toward those of African descent.

With Rwandan children at one New Jersey school being pressured to stay home and a high school soccer player of Guinean origin facing “Ebola” chants during a match, it looks like racism and xenophobia are exacerbating the hysteria.

In a HuffPost Live conversation, HuffPost Politics reporter Sabrina Siddiqui questioned the less-than-rational approach to disease prevention that many Americans have taken.

“There is suddenly all of this hysteria about someone being from Rwanda and being ill, not recognizing the vast amount of difference from Rwanda to West Africa, which is the distance from here to Europe,” she told host Alyona Minkovski.

Some of this fearful response reflects an ignorance of Africa’s geography and its diverse populations, Siddiqui said.

The tendency of Westerners to treat Africa as a monolithic entity has also had implications in the political realm. Looking to play to the voters in the midterm elections, some candidates have tried to capitalize on the Ebola panic by calling for travel bans, although public health officials have spoken against the idea.

“Republicans are doing it by instilling fear in voters. You would hope that Democrats would keep their cool. They could have pushed back and tried to say, ‘Hey, guys, we need to calm down. We need to relax’ -- the way Shep Smith did in his monologue a week ago on Fox News,” Siddiqui said.

But many Democrats have similarly failed to focus on more effective means of dealing with Ebola. “Instead we see them falling right into the trap and embracing the travel ban now,” said Siddiqui.

Learn more about the Western response to Ebola in the video above.

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James and Tamah Mulbah
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor James Mulbah, 2, stands with his mother, Tamah Mulbah, 28, who also recovered from Ebola in the low-risk section of the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center, after a survivors' meeting on October 16, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia.
Benetha Coleman
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Benetha Coleman, 24, stands in the low-risk section of the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center after attending a survivors' meeting on October 16, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. She said that her husband and two children died due to the disease.
Jeremra Cooper
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Jeremra Cooper, 16, wipes his face from the heat while in the low-risk section of the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on October 16, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. The 8th grade student said he lost six family members to the Ebola epidemic before coming down sick with the disease himself and being sent to the MSF center, where he recovered after one month.
Zaizay Mulbah and Mark Jerry
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivors Zaizay Mulbah, 34, and Mark Jerry, 30, right, stand together before their shifts as nurse's assistants at the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on October 12, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. Jerry was a money changer and Mulbah a delivery driver before they caught the disease and went to the center, where they recovered. Doctors Without Borders hired them afterward to counsel and comfort others stricken by the disease.
Eric Forkpa
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Eric Forkpa, 23, stands in the low-risk section of the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center after meeting with fellow survivors on October 16, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. The college student, who is majoring in civil engineering, said he thinks he caught Ebola while caring for his sick uncle, who died of the disease. He spent 18 days at the center recovering from the virus.
Emanuel Jolo
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Emanuel Jolo, 19, stands in the low-risk section of the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center after a survivors' meeting on October 16, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. The high school student lost six family members and believes he caught the disease while washing the body of his father, who died of Ebola.
Sontay Massaley
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Sontay Massaley, 37, smiles upon her release from the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on October 12, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. Massaley, who spent 8 days recovering from the disease in the center, said she worked as a vendor in a market before contracting the virus.
Victoria Masah
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Victoria Masah, 28, stands in the low-risk section of the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on October 16, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. She said her husband and two children died of Ebola.
Abrahim Quota
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Abrahim Quota, 5, stands outside the JFK Ebola treatment center after recovering from the disease on October 13, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. He had arrived at the treatment center 10 days before with his parents, who both died there from the virus. The Ministry of Health was to deliver him home after his release to live with relatives.
Lassana Jabeteh
John Moore via Getty Images
Ebola survivor Lassana Jabeteh, 36, smiles before his shift as a nurse's assistant at the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on October 12, 2014 in Paynesville, Liberia. He said that he previously worked as a taxi driver and that he thinks he caught Ebola when he transported a sick policeman who vomited in his car on the way to the hospital. Doctors Without Borders hired Jabeteh after he recovered in their treatment center and he now counsels and comforts others stricken by the disease.