The Lab-Leak Theory Is Unbearably Racist

A scientist works in a lab researching coronavirus antibodies for in Beijing, China, March 30, 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
It’s imperative that we bring this debate back to the very not-racist theory that exotic eating habits are to blame.

It is truly disappointing that, even at this late stage in the pandemic, some Americans remain so addicted to racism and xenophobia that they are willing to countenance the theory that COVID-19 was mistakenly leaked from a Chinese research laboratory. To these people, I say this: We see you; we know what you are doing; and it won’t stand.

Occam’s Razor dictates that there can only be one reason why people who believe that COVID-19 originated in a lab in China keep saying aloud that they believe that COVID-19 originated in a lab in China, and that is to drive anti-Asian hatred on the streets of large cities in the United States. In truth, the “lab-leak theory” — as it is now euphemistically called — is just the latest iteration of an old and ugly stereotype that has haunted America for decades. I remember all too well how the bullies in my kindergarten class used to taunt the AAPI kids. “Hey you,” they would say, “I’ll bet you work on gain-of-function research in an institute of virology and are reckless with your gloves!” It’s been two decades now, but I can still see the agonizing tears this ignorant barb provoked in its targets.

Every time someone connects COVID-19 to China, I die a little inside, for divisive insinuations such as these are the exact opposite of what we need after this horrible year — the worst since Spanish flu. Since March of last year, it’s just been one setback after another: First came COVID-19, and then came its mutations: the Indian variant, the South Africa variant, the Brazil variant, and the U.K. variant. Now, with a new president in office, we must demand kindness, not recriminations.

I’m not a religious man, but if there is one thing I pray for, it’s that the racist lab-leak theory is fully debunked and marginalized. If we are to build a more inclusive world, free of the stereotypes that divide us, it will be important for us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that COVID-19 was not unleashed by something as intrinsically Sinocentric as a scientific accident involving poor protective-clothing management, but as the result of a more culturally neutral tradition such as the human consumption of wet-market bats. Only once that has been established beyond rejoinder will we be able to start the hard work of defeating prejudice and acknowledging who was really to blame for this devastating pandemic all along: America.


The Latest