A Delaware labor leader who made anti-Asian coronavirus social media posts has apologized for his “hurtful and offensive” posts.
“In the past I occasionally used [coarse] and sometimes unacceptable language to make a point,” James Maravelias, president of the Delaware AFL-CIO, posted Saturday on Facebook. “I now realize that on a handful of instances, my social media posts were hurtful and offensive. However, I am sorry if they offended anyone or any group of people.”
The apology came a day after Politico reported on the posts by Maravelias, whose state AFL-CIO counts at least 16 unions as members.
Maravelias, who is also president of the Delaware Building Trades and an official at Laborers Local 199, deleted a meme he posted on March 30 that showed Adam and Eve as two Chinese people eating a snake — an image fueling anti-Chinese sentiment and referring to suggestions that Chinese culture is to blame for the coronavirus. “Here you go come on you know it’s funny,” he wrote, according to a screenshot.
In another now-deleted post that appears to feature a video of people eating wild animals, he wrote: “Hey snowflakes...See no nationality to insult your feelings...BUT eating this [expletive] is why the virus COVID-19 has killed a couple of hundred thousand people so far.”
Maravelias’ posts, which were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, come out of a long tradition of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the American labor movement. Some say posts like these continue to threaten the fight for workers’ rights.
“This is a point in labor history where we need strong community organizing more than ever,” said Jeeva Muhil, a bartender and member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA). “On top of unemployment and health issues, [Asian Americans] are experiencing a spike in hate crimes. These racist Facebook posts hold back the entire labor movement from organizing.”
Building trades leaders in Philadelphia, too, have long fended off accusations of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment: Most recently, the Carpenters union denounced the actions of a union official who wore blackface during the Mummers Parade. But Maravelias’ apology, like the Carpenters’ distancing itself from their member who wore blackface, suggests there’s less tolerance for these kinds of sentiments among labor leaders.
Maravelias did not respond on Monday to a request for comment, but last week told Politico: “Approximately 15,000 residents of New Castle County have been infected and you are hassling me about a Facebook post — unemployment is over 30% in Delaware and my personal Facebook reposts are news? No wonder there is no real media presence.... This is politically motivated by a far-left-wing faction to drive a wedge with radical political theatrics.”
Politico’s Daniel Lippman noted that “Delaware’s official unemployment rate in March was actually 5.1%, although it’s certainly risen significantly since then, and there are fewer than 1,400 cases in New Castle County.”
Kristine Yang, a music teacher who is a member of APALA, said anti-Asian racism is often seen as “funny” and “not real racism” because it’s in the form of cartoons, jokes, or catcalls.
“However,” she said, “it perpetuates the idea that Asian people are somehow inferior and deserve ridicule, and causes the victims to feel hurt and shame.”
Asian Americans have reported facing increased racism and hate speech during the pandemic. President Donald Trump has called the coronavirus “the Chinese virus,” despite the World Health Organization’s recommendation that viruses not be named by geographic location because such shorthand has sparked a backlash in the past.