Quick Hit: Veto on the Swine flu to “Mexican” flu.

Sorry, not OK to rename the swine flu to the “Mexican” flu. Channing Kennedy writes at the Racewire blog,

Let me be among the first to say that the move by some to rename ‘swine flu’ to ‘Mexican flu’ is offensive on its face and in its roots. It does everything to fuel unfounded fears, and it politicizes a serious health crisis in a thinly veiled effort to stoke hatred toward an already-vulnerable group. Worst of all, it doesn’t even blame the right people!

And better yet, renames it to Spring Breaker flu. Go read the rest. High-larious.

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    I agree, I think “Mexican flu” is pretty racist and will only fuel the anti-Mexican/anti-Latino sentiments. Why can’t we just freakin’ call it the swine flu?

  • mugsandpugs

    Although I agree naming it “Mexican flu” is problematic and racist, calling it “swine flu” is also problematic as there has been concern that those who believe pigs are unclean (such as in the Jewish or Islamic faiths) may not want to come forward with having an illness that relates to a swine. It also spreads misinformation as you can not catch the illness from pigs. I believe officials are asking media outlets to use “2009 H1N1 flu”

  • The Law Fairy

    although I agree with the sentiment, I gotta say, the post linked to was kinda off. For one thing, not every white teen who goes on spring break can afford to, and not every white teen who can afford to go on spring break does. I never did the crazy spring break thing just because it never appealed to me; I preferred to study, which is why I now make enough money that I actually CAN afford to go on spring break, which I still don’t really do, because working the kind of hours I have to work in order to make this kind of money results in rapid aging.
    Anyway… Yeah I know, “poor rich white girl boo hoo hoo,” whatever. I’m just saying it rubbed me the wrong way. Not because I have any problem AT ALL with griping about spring breakers, whom I largely can’t stand. But because the post isn’t complaining about spring breakers so much as rich people, which annoys me. Being affluent isn’t a sin. Being an affluent asshole is. Spring breakers are assholes, but the post in numerous places makes it clear it isn’t fighting a culture war; it’s fighting a class war. I hate class warfare.

  • SailorROX

    Even though “Mexican flu” would be the wrong label for a disease which has spread to several countries, including the US, swine flu is a misnomer as well.
    As of right now, researchers have not confirmed that there is a postive link between this strain of the H1N1 Influenza A1 and pigs. So what is happening here is that there will be a massive backlash against pig herds. Egypt, which has no confirmed cases yet, has ordered the slaughter thousands of pigs.
    So before anyone says that I’m just being picky here, the “swine flu” tag also has rascist/classist implcations as well. In the United States, many Mexicans and other poor immigrant groups work on farms. The sensleless destruction of all these pig farms could possibly endager the economic livlihood of thousands of hardworking people. And let’s be honest, with all the government backlog, can we really expect that pig farmers will be compensated in a timely manner?

  • Seasons

    This is stupid. Why do people think its okay to directly offend Mexicans to call it the ‘Mexican Flu’ then to (very) indirectly offend Islamic and Jewish faiths by calling it the Swine flu?
    And the flu comes from a pig… so it’s only logical to name it after, I don’t know, a PIG!

  • khw

    for the love of god, the name H1N1 is neutral, easy to say and avoids offending many. I’d say it’s the easiest option.

  • The Law Fairy

    H1N1 could be “heinie” in 1337 :D
    Heinie flu!

  • nilbog

    The “swine flu” derives from several different sources, including human, swine, and bird. As far as any evidence shows, the flu cannot be transmitted by eating pork, yet Egypt ordered the slaughter of over 300,000 pigs to try and prevent the flu. For me, the problem with the term “swine flu” is that it places the blame of this disease on animals who will likely be killed to prevent it’s spreading, rather than acknowledging the human-made farming conditions which may have led to this particular mutation. Honestly though, I think it is not worth our time to lay blame on any particular group, human or animal for this flu; rather we should do what we can to protect everyone, human or animal, and I think changing the name to something more accurate and neutral would help support that goal.

  • http://racewire.org Channing

    Thanks for commenting on my piece, Sabina ;)

  • http://racewire.org Channing

    You’re absolutely right to point out the disconnect between the way white people are described in the piece, vs. the reality. I did it intentionally, to mimic the stereotype-an-unfamiliar-group-into-an-inaccurate-parody-and-then-blame-for-everything technique so loved by the Glenn Becks and Michelle Malkins of the world.
    As the piece says: “You might even say that the examples I’ve provided do little to make my case, and demonstrate nothing but my own ignorance. Wrong again, fascist!”

  • SociologicalMe

    Speaking as a UD grad student, I am SO f-ing sick of hearing about the stupid swine flu. Nobody’s coming to class, everyone’s panicking over an illness with way fewer complications and deaths than the regular flu, and I can barely drive around campus because of the news vans.
    On the other hand… heinie flu. Heh heh.


    oh okay, good point. I just found out yesterday that it’s called H1N1 flu, so I think that one sounds more “medical” and neutral instead some of a prank virus gone wrong. (yea, yea, I know that made no sense)


    oh shit, I didn’t realize that was you. I was wondering why the hell your name sounded so familiar, then I saw your photo and realized I knew you some years ago. Nice to see you online ;-)

  • The Law Fairy

    I suppose it’s too late in the week to claim a case of Mondays, eh? ;)

  • Devonian

    “Even though “Mexican flu” would be the wrong label for a disease which has spread to several countries, including the US”
    Aren’t diseases sometimes named for where they originated (or at least first were recognized)?

  • The Law Fairy


  • journolat

    It is likely to have originated in San Diego or northern Mexico. Emphasis on SAN DIEGO.
    Should we call it the American flu then? Or San Diego flu? Which would you prefer?

  • Pantheon

    “likely” to have originated in san diego maybe– not where it was first noticed and identified.
    Someone told me it was being called the Marrano flu, but I haven’t seen that anywhere else….

  • Pantheon

    “likely” to have originated in san diego maybe– not where it was first noticed and identified.
    Someone told me it was being called the Marrano flu, but I haven’t seen that anywhere else…. I’m not sure what that means though. Is it a town?

  • FrumiousB

    Yes, that is the default, but it’s not a universal practice.

  • cfin

    While I agree with you that hearing about it is getting tiring, I do think that the university is doing a good job in being proactive. I go to UD as well and know that “regular” illnesses tend to spread like wildfire.
    Although the media coverage is certainly overzealous, students don’t seem to be skipping class, at least in my classes. Also, most people I’ve noticed are complaining, rather than panicking (although there are a good proportion of them too), that the university is canceling events yet keeping classes. I don’t mind still having classes but I think it’s a bit of a predicament.

  • feckless

    Uh oh….I feel that is somehow reaching the point of overly crazyness.
    1.) The name swine flu is very misleading as this new strain of influenca virus hasn´t been even found in any swine. Also there is a swine flu that has nothing to do with the current outbreak and is just a swine on swine disease
    2.) There are already different names for this influenca out there like: North American influenza and 2009 H1N1 flu
    3.) Flu epidemics are usually named after the places the outbreak took place (or the regions most victims lived). For example the H1N1 flu was known as Spanish- and Russian flu before. There also has been an Asian flu and a Hong Kong flu before

  • bifemmefatale

    Also Russia has banned the importation of US pork, and domestic producers are seeing a huge drop in sales because some Americans think you can get it from eating pork as well. Russia imported over a million pounds of US pork last year, so this could be a huge hit to an already messed-up economy.
    Let’s just call it H1N1 flu already.

  • http://www.racewire.org Channing

    Hey all,
    thanks for the repost, first off!
    Yvonne Liu, one of my fellow RaceWire bloggers, has an excellent piece up today, tracing swine flu to factory farm production in America, and showing how the same unfair labor practices that allow workplaces to exploit undocumented workers have also led to a serious disease that’s killed hundreds on both sides of the border. It’s here: http://www.racewire.org/archives/2009/04/naftachoo_the_global_virus_cul.html
    Share it with your friends and help push back on the racist hysteria surrounding this illness.

  • Ariel

    teehee! My class decided to call it the Flying Pig flu. We all knew pigs could fly some day.

  • Criss

    “Marrano” is Spanish for “pig” (one of the many Spanish words we have for pig), so “marrano flu” would still be calling it “pig/swine flu.” Just in “Mexican.”

  • LunaBelle

    If the virus was first noticed and had large numbers of victims in Tennessee, I’d be fine with calling it the Tennessee flu. I don’t see why that’s so “offensive”. And calling swine flu offensive because many Mexicans are farmers is really reaching.
    I (of course) may be wrong, but I don’t see how this could’ve originated in the U.S. when Mexico had the first publicized outbreaks and has had a far greater number of cases.
    I don’t think naming it after the main area of the original outbreak is saying that the people in that area are “bad”.

  • Kat

    The deputy health minister in Israel (from a very religious party) wanted to call it “Mexican flu”. They’re still going to call it “swine flu.”

  • puckalish

    Ummm… context matters, does it not? The folks who are calling it “Mexican Flu” are doing so in a jingoist, racist and just generally bigotted manner. Did you read the original article or the subsequent RaceWire article? Check out the context out of which “Mexican Flu” was raised. For the sake of reprinting:
    Illegal aliens are bringing in a deadly new flu strain. Make no mistake about it. – Michael Savage
    I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the US as a result of uncontrolled immigration. – Michelle Malkin
    What happens if there’s a rash of deaths in Mexico… and if you’re a family in Mexico and people are dying and Americans are not, why wouldn’t you flood this border – Glenn Beck
    and more… (you can read the humorized quotes over at Channing’s blog entry)…
    These are the people coining the term; do you really want to go to bat for them?
    As a general rule, I’d say that when you’re confused about why people are “offended,” take a step back and check out the dialogue surrounding the alleged offense. You might not need someone like me to explain it for you.

  • LunaBelle

    I don’t need “someone like you” to explain anything to me. I understand those articles are bigoted and offensive. I just don’t agree that renaming to flu to reflect where the first outbreak was recorded is inherently bad, but your mileage may vary. That’s the only point I was trying to make.

  • puckalish

    Okay, so you agree that the term “Mexican Flu” has been used by right-wing ideologues to further demonize a people, yes? Why, then, promote a terminology that is (a) not necessarily accurate (this strain of the flu H1N1 dates back to the turn of the century, when it was called the “Spanish Flu”) and (b) has helped to stoke the fires of jingoism and intolerance in the US?
    So what if the first recorded cases of this latest outbreak occurred in Mexico? That is only part of the context – there is a larger system of dialogue at work here and the fact is that, in the US, at least, calling H1N1 the “Mexican Flu” has implications beyond simply identifying the locale of these early cases.
    PS. Apologies if I came off a little harsh, but I thought the arguments against the term were pretty obvious if you were look at the entire discourse. There is a haze of racism surrounding coverage of H1N1 here and to argue that it’s just a matter of pinpointing the first cases struck me as intentionally oblivious; I’m sorry for jumping to that conclusion.

  • puckalish

    On a related note, AIDS was called a “gay-related immune deficiency syndrome” at one point… Mind you, the first diagnosed cases were in homosexual men, so, by similar logic, calling HIV/AIDS a “gay disease” was not wholly inaccurate, as it was simply identifying an early locus of the infection; however, the implications for, and origins of, such nomenclature were out of control and have impacted the way in which that epidemic has been dealt with for decades. To pretend that it’s just a matter of identifying early diagnosed cases is naive at best.
    Another problem is that there are people who feign naivete in order to buttress bigotry; it’s my problem for jumping to the conclusion that this was the ground from which you were operating and, again, apologies for my harsh tone.

  • plasticrose

    Am I the only one who is offended by the racism in the ‘Race Wire’ article? I didn’t find it funny. I am not American and therefore haven’t been exposed to what I’m sure is potentially racist and bigoted reporting on the issue, but is calling the disease “spring breaker flu” really any different to calling it “Mexican Flu”? You can’t blame ANY one group of people for something like this. Governments need to be smarter about unregulated movement of people and the illnesses they bring.
    I realise it’s a joke but I think it’s taken a step too far in the post, and I don’t find it funny. I don’t think it’s fair to stereotype North Americans as lazy, disease-ridden rich people who are disrespectful to Mexican borders. I’m sure such people exist, and they may even have caused the outbreak, but that doesn’t make it okay to make racist stereotypes. That’s just bringing it down to the same level of people who would blame disease-ridden Mexicans. Neither are ok.
    Mexican people have a right to be really goddamn angry about some of the things the US government has inflicted on their country, and at Americans who disrespect their borders, but is spreading hate really constructive in a situation like this?

  • puckalish

    Please understand that it’s a satirical inversion of the bigotry quoted in the very article. Check out the author (Channing)’s response to The Law Fairy for more information on this. It’s very tongue-in-cheek… a lampooning of bigotry. Get it?

  • LunaBelle

    No offense taken, and I do understand and agree with some of the points you made, especially the statements about the HIV virus.

  • Pantheon

    Oh, ok. I only knew the word cerdo for pig in spanish.

  • Pantheon

    “this strain of the flu H1N1 dates back to the turn of the century, when it was called the “Spanish Flu””
    What? No, that’s not true. There have been various strains of H1N1 over the years, but this one is NOT the same as the spanish flu. Its not even the same as what was called “swine flu” in the 1970s. Flu viruses mutate and evolve quickly; its virtually impossible for it to be exactly the same as the Spanish Flu unless it came from a frozen sample from the 1920s.

  • ldshw

    My small community in eastern Canada has 4 confirmed cases. Despite that, our community seems to be acting pretty normal. Obviously we’re paying close attention to the news because we have been directly effected, but people seem to be going about their daily business, albeit with a bit of added caution. I find it curious that most unaffected places seem to be in a frenzy, while our community has acted calm and collected. Although, we haven’t had any deaths, so that would likely add some urgency and anxiety.

  • lepidopteravirus

    I don’t think calling it the “Mexican flu” is racist- in fact, I think the only reason you would think that is if you associate racism with the word “Mexican”, which I (unlike Glenn Beck) don’t. Does that make sense?
    I’m from Spain, where it’s being called the “Mexican” flu. I suppose there must be some relief in it after 40 million deaths were attributed to the “Spanish” flu :)
    (By the way, the name “Spanish flu” annoys me, but Americans still use it!)

  • lepidopteravirus

    … Of course, I probably haven’t been exposed to the same nasty news coverage that you all have. I realise that while calling it the “Mexican flu” in the rest of the world may not be racist, in the US in could just provide a springboard for all kinds of bigots and anti-immigration advocates. In which case, “Mexican flu” in the US media = not a good idea. However, I think it’s the media/people who are the problem, and not the name “Mexican flu”.

  • plasticrose

    OK fair enough, I hadn’t seen the author’s comment. The thing about ‘jokes’ like that and the reason they offend so many people and upset people is that although we’d like to think that most people tell racist jokes in a tongue-in-cheek way to make fun of racist people, some people tell racist jokes because they are racist. It’s often hard to distinguish between the two.
    I hadn’t noticed that the author himself had commented on which of these it was and in that case I understand that it was a piece of satire. A disclaimer on the actual article would have made that clearer, and is common practice in satire so that people don’t accidentally take it seriously. Just a hint to the author for future reference ;)

  • Lisa

    “Egypt, which has no confirmed cases yet, has ordered the slaughter thousands of pigs.”
    In this case swine/H1N1 flu is most likely being used as a cover to persecute the minority religion. However, I agree with what you are saying. The pork industry has taken a major hit due to people’s ignorance of disease transmission. Unfortunately, the damage is probably already done. I think H1N1 is the safest route to go, but I have a feeling that “swine flu” is what will stick in the general public regardless of what officials use.

  • Lisa

    Mexican flu makes sense as the suspected country of origin and the word “Mexican” shouldn’t be offensive because it’s a legitimate term for something that is of/from Mexico. That’s all fine and dandy if it occurs in a vacuum rather than in context. In the United States simply uttering the word Mexican can trigger a frothing-at-the-mouth fury in which “illegals” are blamed for any and every social and political ill the U.S. experiences.

  • FrumiousB

    Naming a strain of virus after the place where the breakout started is not inherently racist. However, it is true that certain places are viewed in a racist manner by certain people – remember the Asian backlash in America when the Asian Bird flu was a concern. “Swine flu” is in no way shape or form a racist term, but look at the backlash against pigs – pig herds are being culled to the detriment of their farmers even though there is no medical reason to do so. So, do we as a global society (because remember that the name will be used internationally) have a responsibility to avoid names that will cause a backlash in certain local societies? Probably.
    Anyway, the WHO named the virus A(H1N1), and they are the naming authority.

  • puckalish

    I think the second to last paragraph acts as that caveat pretty well… I mean, really, how can you take that seriously? Except, perhaps, for the scathing critique of popular journalism it presents.

  • puckalish

    I stand corrected… my point, I guess, was more that “swine flu” or “Mexican flu” is arbitrary as well as inaccurate… whereas my statement was just, um, inaccurate… ha! Seriously, though, there aren’t any other major instances of H1N1 floating around right now, so wouldn’t it just suffice, as others have suggested, to call it that? Or, as the World Organization for Animal Health suggests, “North American flu,” which rightly names the original locus without being available for bigoted garbage or unneccesary animal slaughter.

  • GypsyLin

    One cannot deny the setbacks for marginalized groups when they are associated with (potentially) deadly diseases. (Fore the record, I don’t think this flu is anymore deadly than our typical strains, but it is how it’s portray in the media and what much of the population believes). Calling HIV the gay disease was a horrible idea. It just opened the floor for more discrimination. It made people uncomfortable touching gay people for fear they had the disease! I work in AIDS legal services and to this day people still refer to it as a gay disease even though the majority of new cases are found in young black women. There’s still the expectation that gay men are going to be positive at some point in their lives. So, no I don’t think this should be renamed the Mexican flu. We already have such a tense relationship with Mexicans and Mexico and their image is so fragile here that it will take a LONG time to bounce back from something like that being attached to them.

  • BurnTheVegan

    He wanted to call it Mexican flu because there aren’t many pigs in Israel, what with them not being kosher and all.

  • Picaflor

    Naming viruses after locations can definitely be racist. Take the “Spanish” influenza of 1918/1919 – its actual origin was likely Kansas, USA. It was called the Spanish influenza because Spain was the only country that informed its citizens of the pandemic’s existence. The USA and other countries feared that their soldiers stationed abroad would be vulnerable to attacks if the world knew they were sick with influenza.
    Even if H1N1 originated in Mexico, it could have originated in any location where the human influenza virus is likely to come into contact with the swine influenza virus. So, calling it “Mexican flu” is pretty pointless, at least from a scientific standpoint (especially considering that it’s not confined to Mexico anymore). Likewise, as many others have pointed out, “swine flu” is a misnomer, as the virus contains genetic information from the human, swine and avian influenza virus. The name “H1N1″ actually contains legitimate information about the virus itself. The H and N refer to hemagglutin and neuraminidase, two proteins that allow the virus to attach to cells. This name might not mean much to the general public, but surely “2009 influenza” can suffice?


    That’s just silly.
    Since Jews and Muslims already think that pigs are unclean, why wouldn’t a Jewish person or a Muslim want to say that they got a disease from a dirty pig? Wouldn’t that CONFIRM their attitude that the pig is an unclean animal?