COVID-19. There’s no Excuse for Bigotry.

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“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.” In 2015, in issuing guidelines  on naming new diseases and pathogens, WHO said that names matter; inaccurate or biased names can provoke backlashes against religious and ethnic groups, with serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”


This is about the proliferation of such names for the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” and “the Wuhan virus,” loudly proclaimed by officials in the Federal government and segments of the media.


Among others, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) expressed the deep concern of “our leaders actually stoking the flames and encouraging people to scapegoat.” She added, “The only result that can happen from … xenophobic rhetoric is to hurt people and to scapegoat a particular ethnic group in this country.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The World Health Organization (WHO) warned against using the term “Chinese virus.” In fact, the these dog-whistle terms already appearing online.


Chinese virus… Wuhan virus… These terms deliberately target Chinese people and other Asians who “look Chinese.” It’s racism. It’s bigotry. This is not open to question. “The coronavirus is not an excuse to be racist,” said Samantha Bee, the comedian. “Tying coronavirus to China and Chinese people isn’t just a racist dog whistle, it’s a whole racist orchestra.”


See or Hear Racism? Speak Up!

The Southern Poverty Law Center urges people to speak up. The organization’s Teaching Tolerance project recommends a four-step model:

  1. Interrupt the conversation. Express that you need to talk about racism before proceeding.
  2. Question the person and remark. “Why did you call it the Chinese virus” or “What made you say that?”
  3. Educate the speaker. Tell them that the name COVID-19 was chosen carefully to avoid associating the pathogen with a specific group of people.
  4. Echo when someone else speaks up. Acknowledge and amplify the message that these terms are wrong and hurtful. The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute offers online training on being an active bystander.



It’s real. Racist attacks against people of Chinese ancestry and other southeast Asians have been reported around the world. “Not only do we need to be afraid of our health, now we also have to be afraid to be ourselves,” said one Chinese-American teenager. “Coronavirus infected my high school.” A young woman was yelled at, threatened, and spat on by. The same New York Times article cited many others, including other Asian-Americans, “who with families from Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, and other places — are facing threats, too, lumped together with Chinese-Americans by a bigotry that does not know the difference.” A Huffpost article echoes this news and urges bystanders to speak up.


This issue also affects political leadership around the world. Representatives from the Group of Seven nations met last Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, but they couldn’t agree on a joint statement to release to the public afterwards. Why? Because U.S. Secretary of State insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus.”


More than 200 civil- and human-rights organizations have sounded the alarm, among them Human Rights Watch, the Anti Defamation League (ADL), the NAACP, and the Arab American Institute.


“Disease and prejudice have long gone hand in hand,” said the New York Times editorial board. “We can do better in 2020.”


As Frank Bruni said in his sad, but very beautiful piece, Why the Coronavirus Is So Much Worse Than Sept. 11, “jokes don’t fly right now.” Please read it.

Yet, even in the absence of laughter, it is refreshing to know one can still be funny and positive, without being in denial. Stephen may be thanking his audience, but here his audience surely must be thanking him. (I refer to the many kind comments, especially one from a lady in Italy.) Meanwhile… Please, let’s be there for one another!

Leah Liwska and a Beautiful Purim Story from Rochester, New York

Group Picture 1929


Alex Zapesochny, Publisher of the Rochester Beacon, shared this beautiful story about “discovering” his great aunt, Leah Liwsky. His search led him to the Korczak orphanage in Warsaw, where Leah was one of the students. She is believed to be the third from the left in the second row in this 1929 photo. As Janusz Korczak never abandoned his children, Leah stayed with Korczak, even in the hell that was the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. So dedicated was she that she made Janusz Korczak’s list of “valuable employees” at the orphanage, in a document dated March 19, 1942. The Jewish people faced a threat, but thanks to Esther, good prevailed. For Purim this year, we get to meet another strong heroine!


Leah Liwska - A Purim Story Rochester Beacon


Please read the beautiful article here

I Thought a Woman Would Be Next

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“You had a right to feel women were next,” said Lawrence O’Donnell.

…. “as tears of joy fell” after Barack Obama became the first black president to give a victory speech speech in Grant Park … named for the general who won the war that ended slavery.”

At the beginning of this campaign, “you had a right” that the Democratic Party would nominate a woman for president. Amy Klobuchar. Elizabeth Warren. Kamala Harris. Kirsten Gilibrand. This was the most qualified field of women candidates in history. “You had a right….”

India, Israel, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Malawi…

I am with Lawrence. “One of the best parts of this campaign was Senator Elizabeth Warren.” Indeed, on this, the International Day of the Woman and Women’s History Month, I mourn Elizabeth Warren’s suspending her campaign.

Whether one agrees with her or not, Elizabeth Warren had a plan, many plans. She had thought out policies. And she had, and still has, a wonderful sense of humor. Witness her lunch with Stephen Colbert and his “Hometown Hospitality.” And, after she suspended her campaign, she still was strong on Saturday Night Live.

When asked who I would be voting for in my June primary and the November general election, the best response I could summon was, “I will be supporting and voting for one of the older white guys.” Whomever this is, I hope he nominates Elizabeth Warren—or one of the other exceptional women running earlier in the campaign—will appear on the ticket as the vice president.

To quote an editorial writer from the Washington Post: “Elizabeth Warren isn’t finished. Her ideas won’t go away, and neither will she.” And the fight goes on. Pinky promise!

A Very Good Book on a Good Neighbor

The Good Neighbor - 003

Upon looking at the humble man changing into an old cardigan and sneakers, singing children’s songs on a decidedly low-budget set, one would never know he came from a well-connected family. And one would never imagine that the modest figure who, as an adult, kept his weight at 143 pounds as almost an act of faith was one the boy so many teased as “Fat Freddy.” Yet, as readers of The Good Neighbor learn, both these aspects of his growing up had the notable influence on his persona of Mister Rogers. On the other hand, Mister Rogers and Fred were exactly one and the same. “What you see is what you get.” Readers of this thoughtful biography learn that, too. Remember, this is the man who told every child, “I like you just they way you are.”


Rogers, with his traditional values, may have seemed old-fashioned. However, as an educator, he was—if anything—ahead of his time. Psychologists and child-development experts were just understanding how critical a child’s early years are for both learning and cultivating emotional maturity and well-being. (One of these, Dr. Margaret McFarland, was remembered recently.)


“Human kindness will always make life better,” Mister Rogers is quoted in the book. Two of his most memorable episode are included:

  • His conversation with Jeff Erlanger, a boy who used a wheelchair to get around. (The two would reunite many years later.)
  • The wading pool “swim” with Officer Clemmons, a bold statement against segregation. At the end of the episode, Mister Rogers dries off the officer’s feet.

That last point is worth bearing, as it is reminiscent of the life of Jesus. The Good Neighbor goes into considerable detail, exploring Rogers’s religious life—his upbringing in a traditional Presbyterian family and his college work at the seminary, both of which would infuse Mister Rogers, both the man in the cardigan on TV and the real-life figure.


Another area in which Fred Rogers had a passion and talent is music. The reader of The Good Neighbor will learn about how he created—played and actually composed—music. The admiration Rogers had for musicians—and musicians had for him—was evident on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; these many memorable moments are revisited.


“Fearless authenticity” describes who Mister Rogers was, both on screen and in real life. “It’s you I like.”


Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley

Maxwell King, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018.
ISBN 1419727729
ISBN-13: 9781419727726

Lynn Johnson, the Person Behind the Camera Behind Mister Rogers

Lynn Johnson Photographer NPR

A retrospective in the New York Times chronicled the life of Margaret McFarland, the child-development expert behind much of Fred Rogerss work. (This was the subject of my previous blog post.) More recently, NPR featured another person associated with Mister Rogers, Lynn Johnson, the photographer behind the lens that captured not just the work, but the very persona of Fred.


A selection of Lynns photographs shows Fred Rogers at work—both in and outside the studio—and enjoying life beyond. In the accompanying interview, Lynn says that Fred was exactly like the man Mister Rogers portrayed. What you see is what you get. Most notably, as captured in several photos, Fred would kneel down so as to meet children at their level.


“He helped teach me how to value others, how to work with people so that they don’t feel taken advantage of and how to work in that extremely delicate and fragile space that allows you to tell their story with integrity and causes no harm,” said Lynn. He’d ask everyone to close their eyes for a minute and think about those who have been helpers in their lives. It is about gratitude and love, and I think that’s the essence of who he was.” These observations recall one of Mister Rogerss most endearing—and enduring—quotes: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.


Lynn said what she remembers most is Freds empathy, some of which was born from his own childhood. He had that deeply private pain that everyone holds. In his case, it was the pain of being bullied as a chubby kid—the kind of poison that can sit in you and has to do with the darker emotions based in fear and anger for being treated a certain way.”


For many, the gentle message of Fred Rogers, his kindness and decency resound in the darker emotions based in fear and anger” that permeate so much of public discourse and news nowadays. When this question was posed to Lynn, she responded, I think he would be heartbroken, but he would be working to make it better.”