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Racism in the Time of COVID-19

Image Credit: China Daily
Racism in the Time of COVID-19

Ever since the emergence of COVID-19, fear surrounding the deadly pandemic is further fuelling the panic and giving credence to a number of assumptions primarily based on rumors pertaining to the spread of the novel Coronavirus. Consequently, stigmas are generated, racist tendencies have sharpened, minority groups are marginalised and inequality has strengthened. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, stigmas are associated with certain ethnic and religious groups, mainly because of the limited availability of information and subsequent misinformation. Consequently, stigmatised groups encounter racial profiling and biasness in health care systems. This ultimately leads to difficulty in the containing the spread of the deadly virus.

In terms of racial stigmatisation, individuals of Chinese and Asian descent have been experiencing the worst. People of Asian descent have faced stigmatisation from both media and politicians, which have normalised the bullying culture in the society. Usage of the terms like “Chinese Virus” and “Wuhan virus” by politicians is normalising hate speech and xenophobia against Chinese people across the globe. The stigma attached with the COVID-19 disease has not only been specific to Asians or particularly the people of Chinese descent. In fact, the trend has also impacted other communities around the world. The pandemic has been used as an excuse to discriminate against Muslims and spread anti-Muslim hatred in India. Additionally, social media is being employed for marginalising Muslims.

The stigma attached with the COVID-19 disease has not only been specific to Asians or particularly the people of Chinese descent.

In the United States (US), African American community is disproportionately affected by the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CSC) of the US, almost one-third of COVID-19 infections had impacted the black Americans by April. Minority communities of Hispanic Americans and African Americans are relatively less likely to have health insurance than that of White Americans under Affordable Care Act, despite increased coverage. Several research studies show that medical staff is more uncertain and less communicative with non-white patients than with whites. Additionally, majority of African American population is increasingly becoming a victim of COVID-19. Major reason is their bleak health conditions.

Meanwhile, the Africans in China have also become victims of stigmatisation. In Guangzhou, amid fear of the second wave of COVID-19 in China, the local government instituted mandatory testing, surveillance and additional 14-day quarantine specifically for all Africans in the city. Consequently, many Africans are facing uncertain situations by being denied the stays at hotels, getting evicted by landlords and mistreated by shopkeepers. Consequently, complaints were launched by several African ambassadors in Beijing about the stigmatisation and discrimination faced by Africans.

With the treatment cost of the novel Coronavirus out of the reach for most people, it will further enhance the economic inequality. Research suggests that people from the lower economic strata are more prone to catch the disease and are likelier to die from it. On the other hand, those who are healthy will suffer loss of income or healthcare due to lockdowns and quarantines around the world. Consequently, this mutually reinforcing cycle will increase the socioeconomic divides which are the potential drivers of right-wing populism, racial animosity and deaths of despair (deaths related to alcoholism, suicide or drug overdose).

The current pandemic will galvanise the attention towards existing social, political and economic structures.

The COVID-19 has also reinforced class division in the society. The luxury of work from home is currently not enjoyed by most, especially those who are involved in physical labour and working as part of essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies. This structural shift in employment landscape is not only creating bitterness and rage against corporate CEOs but middle class ‘elites’ also (those who are still working from home but are not financially sound). Additionally, quarantine is also seen as a luxury by the less privileged which will enhance the sentiments of resentment even further.

The rising xenophobic tendencies are increasing the fear of contracting COVID-19 among less privileged communities. Similarly, there is a hesitation in getting tested for the virus because of the fear of getting shunned by the society, due to the stigma attached with the disease. The current pandemic will galvanise the attention towards existing social, political and economic structures. Furthermore, it has clarified how calamities of this intensity affect different communities differently, due to the pre-existing notions of society based on race, gender, class and ethnicity. Due to the prevailing inequality in society on the basis of these factors, everyone is experiencing the pandemic differently. No one is getting equal health services or uniform opportunities to maintain financial stability in this time of crisis. In the post COVID-19 world, society needs to learn a more inclusive and cooperative approach towards every group. Moreover, governments should make sure that propagation of false information regarding the spread of coronavirus and subsequent stigmatisation of minorities does not become a part of the new normal.

Rida Anwar

Rida Anwar

Rida Anwar is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She has studied International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad.

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